Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 3 - Destruaction is Imminant!

So after learning that the big threat that's driven him to the brink of insanity was just a misunderstanding and relieving some stress by beating up a mangy cadaver, Terl's back at his desk writing up that homicide report, so calm and relaxed that he's not even touching his pan of kerbango.

Despite warning Numph to be careful---copy of warning enclosed---due to the number of criminals in the work force, a criminal whose papers said his name was "Snit" had gotten into the offices with a probable intent to rob, and walking in on Numph, who had shot him. Before he died the criminal had shot Numph. Witnessed statements to hand and enclosed.

The personnel department in the home office could possibly institute physical examinations as this was the second branded criminal received in recent drafts of personnel. It was, of course, necessary for the company to make a profit and understandable that this was a very out-of-the-way planet, but it had only one security officer. But the matter was actually of no great importance, and one would not venture to criticize the practices of the home office since they knew what they were doing. Situation well in hand. A recently appointed deputy had competently assumed the duties of Planet Head. The crime was simple and routine. Bodies en route at next semiannual firing.

"We're fine, we're all fine, now, here. How are you?" Seriously, Terl thinks anyone's going to buy this? Why would you write "whose papers said his name was 'Snit'" unless you knew it was an alias? How could you try to pass off the murder of a Planet Head as routine? And if the Psychlos are such a sneaky and scheming species, won't somebody notice Terl's transparent attempts to cover his ass? Won't anyone get suspicious going through these statements after he suddenly returns to the home planet and somehow acquires a cache of gold?

Terl sends Chirk off to file his report "with a playful paw on her rump," then works on finishing his last few errands before launching the gas drone and finally killing Jonnie. After "punch[ing] the coordinates of the pictures he wanted" from the "receiving machine," he starts flipping through the daily recon drone scans and is floored by what he sees. The humans have a "blade scraper" at the bottom of the cliff, going through the rubble from the avalanche! And there's gold in the pile! The Lode lives!

And so Jonnie's ruse distracts Terl from his equally-erroneous conclusion that the humans had sabotaged his mine, making the now-smiling Psychlo chuckle.

That drone. He didn't have to fire it. It could wait till Day 93. Then for sure, but not now. No, by the crap nebula, not now!

I'm starting to worry that the crap nebula is a real place in Hubbard's 'verse. Next chapter, a visit with Ker.

...we were this close to watching Jonnie die...

Back to Chapter Two

Part 11, Chapter 2 - Retroactive False Alarm

It's morning, and a "very masterful" Terl is getting started on his paperwork and finishing up his "perfect crime," which seems to rely more on his superiors' disinterest than any great ingenuity on his part. He also plans to release the gas drone to wipe out the humans after he gets the daily recon photos in - but only if the humans are still at the mine.

Why? Terl's misfiring little brain has come to the conclusion that Jonnie and the other humans have blown up The Lode out of spite. Why does he need to wait a few hours so he can take another look at their victory over him? Why do they need to be clustered around the mine if the drone's schedule involves dropping three gas bombs on the Rockies alone, especially if just one canister was capable of depopulating southern England?

The answer is simple: because otherwise Jonnie can't win. Once again, logic must bend over backwards to accommodate our loathsome "hero."  When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he included mountains because that was Middle Earth's geography. The Misty Mountains were an obstacle for the Fellowship, but they were part of the world, and certainly weren't put in just to have a mountain-climbing scene. But in Battlefield Earth everything, from the aliens' biology to the durability of weapons to Terl's behavior, exists purely so that Jonnie can save the day.

It's a very important distinction, I feel.

Anyway, Terl's a little bummed because even though he'll be gassing his former pet to death in a few hours, his scheme is ruined.

He sighed. It had been a beautiful plan: put the gold in the coffins, ship them home, and when he returned there, dig up the coffins some dark Psychlo night, melt them down, and lord it over everyone as a very rich fellow!

Remember those scanners on the recon drone? Apparently the teleportation network that's the cornerstone of the intergalactic Psychlo empire doesn't have them, or else they'd notice suspiciously high levels of precious metals in a bunch of coffins. And also, Terl would somehow be able to track down ten or so Psychlo coffins interred in a necropolis the size of which can only be imagined.

Anyway, something's nagging Terl besides his failure to get rich, keeping him from finishing his report on Jayed and Numph. He realizes that he doesn't have Secret Agent Jayed's badge, so he lumbers over to the morgue to fetch it and maybe smack the corpse around for good measure.

His route takes him past the electrified cage where Whatshername and Kid Sister are hanging out, where Terl sees a delivery of food and firewood outside the gate and gives the care package a kick - before remembering those incredible "psychic powers." So he opens the cage and tosses the goods in, confiscates a steel knife, but pats the big female on the head, again because of those "psychic powers."

So... yeah.

The two freshest bodies have just been dumped carelessly in the morgue. Numph weighs a good thousand pounds despite being so old, and Secret Agent Jayed around seven hundred. Mentioning these facts serves little purpose besides reminding us just how mind-boggling it is for Jonnie to defeat such hulking creatures three at a time.

Terl starts beating on Jayed's corpse, whining that "If you hadn't shown up my future would have been a beautiful dream," punching it in the face, choking it, smashing its head into things, and other useless gestures of childish anger. Then he remembers what he's supposed to be doing and starts searching the mangy creature's threadbare uniform for his badge, and discovers three horizontal lines branded onto Jayed's chest. Using hitherto unmentioned powers of forensics, Terl deduces that the burns, along with some tell-tale shackle marks on Jayed's ankles, are around a year old

It was not an unfamiliar story. An official or an agent had committed a crime in the performance of duty or had been stupid enough to tamper with a crime committed by the aristocracy, had been drummed out of his position and thrown into the imperial prisons.

How original, an intergalactic empire with an aristocracy. Are they distinguished by noble blood, or political ties, or pure economic power? Are they connected to the great mining company and other absurdly powerful corporations? Hello? L. Ron? World-building?

Terl "suddenly" realizes that Jayed had simply used his secret agent skills to assume the Snit identity and go into hiding. If Terl had just been a little less quick to shoot last night, Jayed would have shown him the criminal brand and thus given Terl a new lackey to boss around through "leverage." At the revelation, Terl breaks into hysterical laughter for several minutes.

So there you have it - the subplot that drove Terl insane for the past few Parts has been utterly pointless. I'm not really sure how Hubbard intended us to feel about this. Are we supposed to chuckle ruefully at Terl's paranoia? Sag with relief that such a great source of tension has been removed from the storyline? I myself am feeling a little sniffly, though that's probably allergies.

Tune in next time, when Terl finally gets around to wiping out the human race.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, March 29, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 1 - Mining with Dummies

Happily unaware that Terl has snapped and plans on siccing his gas drone on humanity that afternoon, Jonnie and the Scots (with Dunneldeen on bass) decide to look busy at the minesite so that Terl doesn't snap and sic his gas drone on them.

The irony!

This requires gold. They don't have much. But they take what they have and sprinkle it on top of the pile of quartz left over from the rockslide/explosion, then somehow fashion a lifelike dummy and rig it to a tractor. See, boss! Lots of gold here, hard at work, la la la...

Meanwhile, Jonnie consults ancient codices on the esoteric arts of digging for shiny rocks, and deduces that there might be more of this wire gold (I don't know either) in a pocket a couple of hundred feet up from the main vein they were following. They have approximately sixty days until their deadline, and they'll have to hope that what they recover will be enough "bait in the trap for Terl." Which is an optimistic way of spinning "we're being blackmailed by an alien overlord to do his dirty work."

And that's it for this chapter. A dinky little section, it sets the theme for this Part, namely the Quest for Gold. Not too exciting, but there's good news - next Part, the big stuff starts going down. Just thirty pages or so from now.

Next chapter, we learn that a previous subplot was just a big waste of time.

Back to Part Ten, Chapter Nine

Friday, March 26, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 9 - The Perfect Crime

So, how will Terl cover his tracks? Murder, of course.

Terl uses a pre-signed form to elevate Ker to deputy head of planet, then browbeats Numph into setting up a meeting with "Snit"/Secret Agent Jayed just before midnight, when there will be no nearby witnesses. Terl also advises Numph to keep a loaded handgun nearby, and promises to hide behind a handy curtain... Psychlos have curtains? This barbaric and sadistic race? In a spartan mining camp? Just... anyway, Terl will be hiding in the same room, for Numph's "protection," of course. Numph, of course, trusts the guy who's blackmailing him.

Jayed shows up a little late, but soon sits down to talk with His Planetship. Then Terl makes his appearance, carrying an "assassin pistol." It shoots silenced energy blasts. Somehow.

[Jayed] stepped back. He raised his mangy paws. "Wait. Terl! You don't understand---!"

What was he trying to do? Open his shirt? Reach for a secret weapon?

It made no difference. Terl stepped into position and raised the gun, putting it on a direct line from Numph to Jayed.

Terl fired one accurate, deadly shot into Jayed's heart.

Well that was easy.

Terl gloats mentally over how frightened Jayed was, then turns to Numph, who is just "sitting there in terror." He assures the old coot that he's just saved his life, and the panting puppet ruler puts down his gun. Then Terl puts the muzzle of his gun to Numph's head and blows a hole through it.

Then all that's left to do is plant a pistol on Jayed, wrap the corpse's paws around the new gun, and put remote-controlled blast caps in Numph and Jayed's weapons. Next Terl ambles into the rec center from the outside and orders some kerbango, and a few minutes later, hits the button in his pocket.

The sound of gunfire draws attention, of course, but Terl barges his way through the crowd and seals off the crime scene, starts taking statements from the spectators, sends the corpses off to the morgue, and plans tomorrow's paperwork - a murder-suicide by Numph, while a follow-up investigation will reveal the executive's embezzlement.

So there it is, the perfect crime. Either the Psychlos don't have dedicated forensics divisions, or just don't care to use them on a mining outpost like Earth. Terl's gotten rid of two potential threats and helped cover his tracks.

Why didn't he do this before? If he was so scared of Jayed, why didn't he eliminate him if it was this simple? I'm no criminal mastermind, but wouldn't you want to secure your position before you launched your big scheme, instead of hoping to clean things up afterward?

Tomorrow afternoon, as soon as he had verified the animals were still there, he would launch the drone and obliterate "the foolish experiment Numph had been engaged upon." All evidence would be covered, all tracks obliterated. Whatever Jayed had been after, it made no difference now.

Terl felt very calm, very cool, very masterful. He had brought off the perfect crime.

It was odd that he couldn't sleep and kept twitching.

Oh no, the humans are doomed. We end on page 331 of 1083, ensuring that there is no way that Jonnie and his friends are in any sort of danger.

Back to Part Ten, Chapter Eight

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 8 - Freakout

Terl's deteriorating further. He spent last night in a drunken slumber and completely missed the earthquake, an all-too-frequent overindulgence fueled by his fruitless search to figure out what Secret Agent Jayed is up to. He's lost weight and picked up tremors in his hands, and the only bright point in Terl's existence is his daily review of the aerial photos of The Lode.

Our villain, lady and gents.

So you can imagine his shock when he sees the daily photo of the new, Lodeless minesite. While boggling at it, Terl notices the mineral scan report from the drone - they're not primarily photographers, y'see, they passively survey mineral composition. From the scan he sees a distinct lack of gold, but the presence of the six minerals that make up a Psychlo explosive called "trigdite."

Huh, so L. Ron can make up alien words when he wants to. He's just lazy.

Anyway, Terl concludes that the animals have blown up his precious nest egg out of spite, tears up the photos, stomps on the scraps, pounds on walls, and has a merry little temper tantrum. When his secretary asks through the door what's wrong, Terl "cleverly" explains that a machine broke.

Imagine Sauron doing this and you'll see why better authors take steps to ensure that their villains don't end up like Terl.

Terl gets down to business.

He felt cool, dispassionate, masterful. He knew exactly what he would do, knew it step by step. He would have to remove all possible threats to his life. He would have to cover all traces.

First he would commit the perfect crime. He had worked it all out.

Then he would release the drone and exterminate the animals.

I guess he's in that stage of drunkenness where you think you're sober and calculating, even as you're pushing on a door marked "Pull" for five minutes before losing your temper and punching through a window.

Terl considers killing Shallow Female Love Interest and Annoying Underage Sidekick, and has a brief fantasy about putting similar explosive collars on the horses and detonating them in front of the cage, just to make the girls panic, before killing the smaller female first to wind up the larger one even more. Which goes to show that even in full damage control mode, Terl can be cartoonishly sadisitc. But Terl remembers Jonnie's terrifying psychic powers, and so consigns himself to killing the girls once his pet human is put down.

Next chapter, the perfect crime!

Back to Chapter Seven

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 7 - A Burial, of Sorts

So now Jonnie and Friends have a problem. The gold they're supposed to be mining is currently buried under a heap of rubble at the bottom of the river, and their boss is a mentally-unstable, murderous alien who will likely decide now's a good time to terminate his little man-thing mining project. And the recon drone is due to fly overhead in a matter of hours.

Jonnie orders the rescued workers home, then inspiration strikes.

"I'm going to do it!" said Jonnie suddenly.

If Terl notices the white quartz in the rubble of the avalanche, Jonnie reasons, he'll know that they didn't reach the gold before the rockslide. So he decides to blow up the other end of the dig, on the cliff itself, to create the illusion they tunneled all the way through.

So he does.

Hubbard describes how Jonnie runs around the mine, drilling holes in the walls, ignoring his devoted followers' objections that he's putting himself in danger by pointing out he's worked with explosives the longest, and so forth. Then there's a tepid little danger moment when Jonnie, suspended by a winch, shoots a "shot-holer gun" to make a spot in the cliff to put a bomb into, which has the danger of setting off the explosives in the mine. But of course he makes it okay.

So the quartz is buried in the rubble from the blast, the illusion of a complete mine is created before the recon drone flies over, and dear lord we're three hundred and twenty-five pages in and there's no battle yet. The book is called Battlefield Earth and so far there's been a single skirmish during that raid several chapters ago. Mostly it's been Jonnie sitting in a cage, Jonnie driving a tractor, or Scotsmen mining. Arrrrrrgh!

It's obvious why Battlefield Earth was packaged as one big book instead of a series - nobody who read the first volume would have any reason to read the rest.

Next chapter, Terl leaps to the wrong conclusions. Shocking, I know.

Back to Chapter Six

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 6 - Tonight, on a Very Special Episode of Battlefield Spork

The earthquake has caused some changes at the valley minesite. The cliff is now leaning away from the water rather than overhanging it, and though there's still quartz visible, there's no yellow stuff in it. The elevator used to access the mineshaft has collapsed, and there's no sign of the miners.

Yelling down the hole doesn't yield results, and nobody answers the intercom Jonnie and friends lower, so next to be dangled down the shaft is a picto-recorder, because this is the future and the Psychlos are far too advanced to use something called a camera. On the upside, they can see that the collapsed hoist doesn't have any bodies tangled in its wreckage (must be a night-vision picto-recorder). On the downside, the drift hole is gone. Some of the tunnels have collapsed.

Workers (supervised by the historian, who snuck aboard the plane to be a part of the rescue party) are lowered down to start trying to remove the blockage. As just a sample of what I'm skimming over:

Two hours went by. They changed three of the men twice. Jonnie stayed down there.

They worked in a blur of speed. The rattle of rocks and thud of sledges freeing them resounded in the dusty hole bottom. The rockfall was thicker than they had hoped.

Two feet into the drift. Three feet. Four feet. Five feet. Maybe the whole drift had collapsed!

I know, I know, such riveting stuff, it's a wonder Hubbard didn't write a whole book about mining!

Eventually they hear the trapped miners pleading for an air hole, which they provide before extracting them. No deaths and only minor injuries, save for Dunneldeen, with a broken ankle and broken ribs. In case anybody cares.

Finally, Thor said, "We lost the lode."

Nobody said anything.

The Lode: Part 1, Chapter 9 - Part 10, Chapter 6. You were a character unlike any other: lovingly-described, essential to the plot. You weren't stupid when you were supposed to be devious, contrived when you were supposed to be brilliant, or unlikable when you were supposed to be heroic. You were simple, straightforward, refreshingly genuine. And now you're gone.

You will be missed, dear Lode.

Next chapter, the rest of the cast keenly feels this loss, and wonders how they can move on without The Lode.

Back to Chapter Five

Monday, March 22, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 5 - D-32: Never Forget!

Disaster struck in the form of an earthquake on Day 32 of the new year.

Nice of Hubbard to summarize the chapter for us. But unfortunately, he goes on to elaborate.

Jonnie gets woken up at his rooms in the hotel by the 'quake, but isn't terribly worried since such tremors are common in the Rockies (?). But then the Scot manning the "directional laser radio" (so in other words, not a radio at all) reports that the miners aren't responding. In a night as "black as coal" (how does Jonnie know what coal looks like?) Jonnie assembles a rescue party and flies to The Lode, bitterly reflecting that "He knew things had been going too well."

The next few paragraphs alternate between pointless and uninteresting descriptions of Jonnie flying and summaries of the events between this and the previous chapter. Jonnie's barbarians have somehow salvaged the ruined ammo from the bunker complex, figured out how to make blasting caps, and made special bullets by putting a grain of radioactive material from their nuclear stockpile into a lead sheath, allowing humans to carry the ammo without worry but creating a round that causes breathe-gas to violently explode.

Which is admittedly pretty clever, if a bit too clever for a bunch of former hunter-gatherers and a man who was bit by a window.

A full hundred of those assault rifles have been miraculously restored to perfect working condition, and an assembly line of Scotsmen have produced five hundred magazines of armor-piercing Psychlo-busting bullets. For an encore, they start converting the recovered bazookas to fire nuclear warheads... which is a much more realistic type of "clever" to expect from these people.

And then the chapter ends, as the plane lands and the relief force jumps out to check on the miners.

Now, you might think that it'd work better to move the "earthquake relief" parts of this chapter to the next one, letting this chapter focus on a quick summary of what's transpired since God answered our heroes' nuclear prayers. Instead of having a bunch of small and pointless scenes of Jonnie in transit in this chapter, you could have him wake up and fly to The Lode early next chapter, thus creating a smoother narrative and avoiding an arbitrary and artificial end-of-chapter cliffhanger here.

And you'd be right. L. Ron Hubbard is not a good writer. For example, this chapter contains the sentence "The assault rifles he had at first considered worthless were proving the very thing." It barely parses, begs the question "the very what?," and screams for a competent editor. And you have no idea how many times Jonnie's thoughts about converting the rifles was suddenly interrupted by him noticing a bush and pulling up on the controls of the plane (the answer: three).

Next chapter, the passing of a beloved character.

Back to Chapter Four

Friday, March 19, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 4 - An Invasion Storyboarded

It must have been night outside, but nothing could be darker than the deep guts of this ancient defense base. The black seemed to press in upon them as though possessed of actual weight. The miner's lamps were darting shafts through ink.

It can't have gotten darker down there since morning, so why take the time to wax poetic about it now?

The explorers find a massive cavern strewn with heaps of metal that used to be helicopters (yet a truck in a surface cave is still mostly intact after the same amount of time), with huge doors in the wall as an alternative entrance/exit. Angus and the "lamp boys" start to work on those, while Jonnie notices an insignia on a ruined chopper reading "President of the United States." After the historian explains who that was, Jonnie does some more searching and finds a stairwell leading to another complex.

This place is all air-sealed, so the corpses are mummified. I could ask why this place got the special treatment as opposed to just sealing the whole stupid base, but I don't care any more. The furnishings are nicer, the artifacts much more intact, and the note under the mummy-President's hand is dated two days later than the paperwork in the rest of the base. Jonnie concludes that "the ventilation systems didn't join: when gas hit the main base, the system was turned off here. And they had not dared turn it back on." So the President and his entourage all suffocated.

You'd think that the designers of an underground fortress built to survive anything its enemies could throw at it would take something like this into account. That's outsourcing for ya.

Jonnie is nice and respectful as he flips through the stack of reports and updates, piecing together the last hours of the old world. A UFO appeared from nowhere over London at an altitude of thirty thousand feet, dropped a single canister, and minutes later the southern half of England was all dead.

That must have been a huge canister. I mean, we went bonkers with the gas shelling during World War One and managed not to kill everyone on Europe. Just how much gas was that single bomb carrying if it was able to spread over a hundred thousand square kilometers of English soil?

Then the UFO flew east at 302.6 miles per hour (I'm sure Hubbard has a good reason for telling us the exact details of the gas drone's course) and was engaged by Norwegian fighters to no effect; the thing didn't even fight back.

There's that cunningly-wrought Psychlo armor at work, making missiles traveling at Mach 2 bounce off harmlessly. Of course the human pilots aren't using proximity fuses or cannons, no.

Further crisis was averted thanks to those little red phones, so the only nukes used were over Germany (sorry Germany), which had no effect on the dinky little aircraft either. Jonnie puts its survival down to not containing any explosive breathe-gas, and its "very heavy motors."

That's... stupid. Just stupid. It might have worked if L. Ron was clever enough to resort to force-fields, but no, that's all the justification we're given, that those cunning angles on the armor somehow deflected a nuclear blast.

So the drone continued a leisurely tour of the world's major population centers (must've been carrying a lot of humongous gas canisters), gassing the base Jonnie's in entirely by accident. By the time the drone started on the Southern Hemisphere, word started coming in of weird tanks teleporting into other parts of the world and attacking the survivors, while incredibly fast planes came out of nowhere to strike at defensive installations across the globe. There were scattered reports of the invaders' vehicles exploding for unexplained reasons, though we all know it must have been radiation hitting the piloted crafts' breathe-gas.

No mention of nuclear weapons being used on the second wave. Words fail me.

The last battle involved those cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, who were apparently the best fighters on the whole stupid planet. And after that, communications were cut by Psychlo bombers.

Jonnie put the papers respectfully in a protective mine bag.

Feeling a bit strange for speaking, he said to the corpse, "I'm sorry no help came. We're something over a thousand years later." He felt very bad.

But not for long, because Dunneldeen soon chimes in on the radio.

"Jonnie, laddie!" said Dunneldeen. "You can stop worrying yourself about scraping uranium out of the dirt! There's a full nuclear arsenal, complete with assorted bombs, intact, just thirty miles north of here! We found the map and a plane just checked it out! Now all we've got to worry about is blowing off our innocent little heads and exploding this whole planet in the bargain!"

Yep. Just like that, Jonnie suddenly has a nuclear stockpile, conveniently untouched and perfectly-preserved. Pages and pages of searching and worrying about this goal have reached an abrupt and anticlimactic conclusion. We don't even see what Jonnie's reaction to the news is, the paragraph above is the last.

And no, we don't visit the nukes next chapter, we're going back to The Lode. Get your priorities straight!

Back to Chapter Three

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 3 - In Search of Hidden Fun Stuff

Deeper they delve, into the depths of a monument to mankind's madness.

Jonnie, Foxy and Angus reach the base's arsenal, revealing "Boxes! Cases! Endless rows of them!" There's encyclopedias of ordnance, bazookas (which apparently Angus recognizes from somewhere), and assorted weapons and wargear to equip a thousand men. The book they find mentions what Hubbard continues to refer to as the "sub-Thompson," and Angus concludes that the truckload of the guns they recovered earlier was being shipped to the academy for the cadets to practice with, since they were already out-of-date "relics" when the apocalypse happened.

So apparently the military trains its soldiers with obsolete weapons. Interesting. I guess it's an incentive to graduate? "Stick through your training and you can use a real gun," or something.

Fearless Leader is leery about using such outdated guns against an alien empire, but then Angus finds a bunch of grease-preserved Mark 50 assault rifles (which is not a real gun, as far as I can tell). Angus assures Jonnie that these, "the last thing they issued," can be cleaned up so they purr. Jonnie is impressed by the sleek weapon, which, a few decades less obsolete than the Thompson, will surely prove of great use.

But the ammo for them is ruined, since the boxes weren't airtight. "The cardboard dividers were decayed and stained. The brass was okay and the bullet clean, but the primer at the bottom told its tale. The ammunition was dud."

Oookay. In an underground stronghold's arsenal are boxes of assault rifles, sealed with some super grease that renders them immune to the passage of time. Obviously the base's crew was planning on... I'm not sure. How long were they intending to hold out down there? Did they have huge food stores, too? Were they going to repopulate the Earth? If not, wouldn't coating your weapons in preservative gunk be a liability if you were attacked and needed them in a hurry?

And why are the boxes of ammo stored for the exquisitely-preserved weapons not airtight? Why not coat the ammo clips in grease too? What, you want the gun to last a thousand years, but you don't want to shoot it? And why did the ammo they found in the Thompson truck work when the stuff in the bunker doesn't?!

This may be my favorite part of the book, and it still hurts.

Then "pay dirt" (looks like Jonnie picked up some mining slang), in the form of boxes of lead coverings for handling radioactive materials. After this latest find Jonnie's team goes back topside for lunch and to refill their air supplies, where they hear Dunneldeen report in about finding safes promising "Top Secret Nuclear" and "Classified Personnel Only, Manuals." An explosives team goes down to secure the goods, and suddenly Jonnie and his barbarians have everything they need to know about using nuclear weapons.

"Now we've got everything but the nuclear devices," said Robert the Fox.

"Yes," said Jonnie. "You can't shoot with papers!"

...Good to know, Jonnie. Thanks for that.

Back to Chapter Two

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 2 - Germ Storage

More dungeon-delving. Jonnie and his friends move deeper into the underground base, traveling along "what seemed like endless corridors and rooms," passing "Offices, offices, offices. Barracks. Storerooms. Their footsteps resounded hollowly, disturbing the millennium-long sleep of the dead."

Not bad imagery, there.

They find some rough maps that show the place to be a daunting three-dimensional maze, which prompts an argument between Angus and Foxy the Robert over the possibility of getting the elevators and such to work again. In a nod to reality, Angus complains that the generators are just "piles of congealed rust" and the fuel has turned to sludge. Paper, of course, has survived the thousand years without difficulty.

A communications console bears a message. "URGENT. Don't fire. It isn't the Russians." A half-Swede crewman explains who the Russians were. Then there's a huge room with a big world map on the floor covered in models indicating military resources. One artifact stands out, a crudely-made cylinder on a projected course that ends just over the location of the installation.

"It was too much data to sort out in a moment. Jonnie went on looking."

In a room labeled "Top Secret" they find mention of "TNWs" and "silos." The former is understood to stand for Tactical Nuclear Weapons, and Thor the Half-Swede (I think) explains that the latter are used to store wheat, though he can't fathom why a military base would be interested in them. Jonnie, who knows what rockets are, can't make the connection, but luckily the historian habitually carries a dictionary (!) and points out that the word is also used to refer to the storage facilities for ballistic missiles. Jonnie excitedly realizes they may have found their uranium!

Back to Chapter One

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Part 10, Chapter 1 - The Lightless Depths of Colorado

These next few chapters are probably my favorites. Not because they're particularly good, but because I like the idea of exploring ancient ruins. In fact, this chapter needs some appropriate music.

Nobody's been by to close the massive doors of the "tomb" since Jonnie's youthful visit, but now he's back, and this time he has Scotsmen with him. Angus gets the portal open all the way with some oil, and with gas masks on to avoid spores from the bones of the dead, and a cage full of rats to play the role of canaries, the explorers go in.

On this graveyard of a planet, they were no strangers to dead remains. They lay in structures and basements in abundance wherever there was any protection from wild animals or the weather, corpses more than a thousand years dead.

No. Wrong. Human remains do not instantly fossilize. And what do you mean "structures and basements?" Rain wears away rock. Metal rusts and fatigues. Earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, years and years of freezing and thawing - all these wear down buildings. Yes, the Great Wall survives from its construction in the sixth century BC, but it was maintained in the intervening centuries. Yes, the Pyramids and Sphinx still stand, but they're in an environment that's very friendly towards artifacts, and even so the latter was mostly buried for hundreds of years.

Now maybe a missile silo buried under the Rocky Mountains could survive a thousand years (but what about the earthquake that uncovered The Lode?). Maybe the steel doors are made of some remarkable alloy that never rusts and never collapses. But dwellings in Scotland? No.

Anyway, the descending staircase behind the doors is covered with what's left of hundreds of people, their weapons and clothing still "somewhat preserved," but their bones "gone to powder." Robert the Fox concludes from the placement that they died entering the complex, as the stragglers failed to shut the doors before the Psychlos' gas rolled in.

Apparently the Psychlos have a chemical weapon that rushes up hills to chase survivors. And also is able to spread over entire continents with terrifying speed, despite being dispersed by a single bomber.

If nothing else, Battlefield Earth makes me want to become a better scientist, just so I can explain how wrong it is.

A vanguard of five men with Tommy Guns (remember the miracle truck in the cave?) sweeps ahead for hibernating animals, killing a sleeping bear and some rattlesnakes. And here we're told that "the sub-Thompson ammunition was dud two rounds out of five, and to get a sustained burst one had to recock the bolt in midfire." There was no mention of this in Part 7, Chapter 2, when the guns work without comment, and it's just confusing now. The guns have survived a thousand years, but only some of the ammo's gone bad? It's a token acknowledgment of reality that ends up feeling dumb and inconsistent.

Pure science fiction.

The advance team informs them over short-range radios (good thing those work well underground with lots of metal nearby) that they've found a second set of doors, these sealed tight, but before the explosives team can have some fun the mechanic gets them open (Angus says "Naw!" instead of "Nae!", because L. Ron gets his Scottish and Southern accents confused, I guess). The ventilation team sets up some fans to get the air circulating again, and Jonnie and his remarkably tech-savvy barbarians move deeper into the tomb of Cold War America.

Back to Part Nine, Chapter Six

Monday, March 15, 2010

Part 9, Chapter 6 - Oh Yeah, That Place

Aaaaand back at The Lode. Or more specifically the old mining town nearby, in the offices of the Empire Dauntless Mining Corporation.

Brace yourself, it's about to get stupid.

Jonnie and the Scots are having a strategy session, but Jonnie's thoughts keep wandering to their new base. It's rather intact (yes, even for a thousand-year-old settlement), almost like someone had rebuilt the town after the mine failed. The Bucket of Blood Saloon is next door (which the parson has put out of bounds, due to "paintings of nearly nude dancing girls and cupids"), and across the street lies the Wells Fargo office and the Jail. The miners have turned the London Palace Elite Hotel into a dormitory ("it had running water--luxury!"), while pamphlets in the offices describe "Tour Schedules" and a daily "bank holdup."

They're in a tourist trap. It's not enough that the buildings are still standing, the glass all intact, the water still working, and the informational pamphlets stubbornly existing in the face of a thousand years of mold and nibbling insects, nooo. L. Ron decided he needed some humor here, too.

Pure science fiction.

The Scottish pilots want to hijack an ore transport or something, so they can warn their homelands about the gas drone. I'm not sure what they'd do with this warning - hold their breaths? Make a gas mask out of wool and spit? Meanwhile, the Scottish miners report that they've hit quartz, but still haven't tunneled down to The Lode yet. And Yes-I'm-A-Real-Doctor-Stop-Asking MacDermott is reading books salvaged from another of those ageless ruined libraries, and he's the one who discovers something to make this chapter worthwhile.

Dermott's got a... textbook? Guidebook? Something. But it mentions a "primary defense base" in the Rockies, which is backed up by a volume of congressional hearings. The Chinko mapmakers referred to the ruins Terl picked out as the defense base, but the humans know it to be an academy instead. Ergo, there's a primary defense base somewhere.

Jonnie went very still.

The tomb!

The iron doors, the dead troops on the stairs.

The tomb!
Remember waaay back in Part 1, Chapter 4? That place. You can be forgiven for forgetting about it - just a few pages later Hubbard spent a whole chapter on a boar fight that had no bearing on the plot whatsoever, and there's been a lot of stupidity and pointless sidetracks between now and then. But yeah, that's where we're going next time.

So grab a lantern, bring an empty backpack for swag, ready your ten-foot-pole, and make sure someone plays a Cleric - we're going dungeoneering. Now at our level I wouldn't expect much more than Kobolds or Drow, but we can't rule out undead. Remember, if a Ghoul drops someone, don't write them off just yet, they might only be paralyzed. And if we see Red Wyrmlings, I don't care how much gold is in the treasure pile, I'm aborting the run.

Back to Part Nine, Chapter Five

Friday, March 12, 2010

Part 9, Chapter 5 - Escape from the Village of the Idiots

We're just about three hundred pages into Battlefield Earth. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution review on the back promised "fast, unrelenting Raiders of the Lost Ark action." I think the combined "action" sequences so far might total ten or fifteen pages, if you count failed escape attempts, that tractor disaster, and the attempt to hoist the mining platform.

So I have my doubts about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's book review section, in other words.

Jonnie is awoken before dawn by Angus excitedly shouting that "It flashed!" Turns out the Scot had gone to the village spring but, mindful of Jonnie's orders, tested with the breathe-gas vial as he went. So there's the local radiation source.

A sudden chill came over Jonnie, and not from the morning cold. That flash was right alongside the path where the villagers went two and three times a day for water. And more. As a little boy he had been a mutineer on a subject of what work he would do. He was a man, he had said--illogically since he had begun this soon after he could walk--and he would hunt, but he would not sweep floors or bring water. And he had never fetched water from that spring. He had even watered his horses at another spring way up the slope. The chill came from his certainty that he himself was not immune to radiation. He had simply never gone to that spring. By a fluke he had escaped contamination. All because hide buckets slopped on him.

Yes, that's how the paragraph is written. And yes, Jonnie was an obstinate, unlikable little bastard even as a child. And an idiot, too, because he somehow developed a pathological hatred of one particular spring, instead walking up a hill to another water source each time he got thirsty.

"Fluke?" Nah, just another moronic plot contrivance. Like how apparently his parents never gave him water from the tainted spring when he was too young to stubbornly refuse to drink it, or how they never used dirty water to prepare food that Jonnie ate or wash his clothes with, or how they themselves stayed away from the spring so that Jonnie could be born without radiation-related birth defects.

Jonnie and the Scots (good band name?) rope off the contaminated area, while the parson makes up some crap about "spirits" to make the place taboo. Then there's breakfast, and after that Jonnie works with the parson and Angus to map out the radioactive places around the village, while the villagers watch with dull, vague interest. And then it is time for the prodigal son to leave once more, to avoid detection by the spy drone that flies overhead at noon each day. Because a devious mastermind like Terl would set his surveillance to a predictable pattern instead of randomizing it to confuse his enemies.

Aunt Ellen is frightened that Jonnie's leaving her again, but refuses Jonnie's offer to take her with him. She makes a show of being delighted at his final gifts ("a great stainless steel kettle and three knives and a fur robe with sleeves in it!") but is crying at the end, due to the patented Horrible Feeling I'll Never See You Again.

I honestly can't remember if she does. Aunt Ellen is that unimportant to the story. But we're out of the Village of the Idiots for now. Next time, Jonnie remembers.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Part 9, Chapter 4 - Return to the VIllage of the Idiots

It's time for a homecoming. Jonnie, Angus MacTavish, and Parson MacGilvy get dropped off in a canyon above the Village of the Idiots along with some recently-domesticated horses, preparing for a quick visit between passes of the recon drone. And why are they making the trip? Why return to this imbred, mutated, moronic settlement of humanity's failures? Well, a week ago Jonnie finally remembered his earlier conclusion that his people were suffering from radiation sickness, meaning there might be uranium around.

No, I'm not going to rag on Jonnie about this. If I'd come from that village, I'd do my best to forget it too.

So they're looking for the glowy stuff, and Jonnie's also going to make another attempt to relocate his tribe, having found an old mining town on the other side of the mountain that had tunnels to take shelter in, plentiful game, and a refreshing lack of radioactive materials. Of course, in a thousand years nobody in the village has noticed this place or thought to move to it. And of course no other tribes of humanity have moved in either.

Jonnie and his two comrades ride into town, noting the sparse animal life and dilapidated state of the village (nothing new), but then they're greeted by Panther the dog and... is it normal to name animals after other animals? Like Chicken the horse? Or Elephant the goldfish? Argh.

The courthouse is deserted, but not Jonnie's house. He has a heartwarming reunion.

There were sounds within and then the door cracked open. It was his Aunt Ellen. She just stood there, staring through the slit. Then, "Jonnie? and then, "But you're dead, Jonnie!"

She opened the door wide and stood there crying.

After a little she wiped her eyes with a doeskin apron. "Come in, Jonnie. I kept your room . . . but we gave your things to the young men. . . . Come in, the cold is getting in the house."

"Is there illness in the village?" said Jonnie, thinking of his companions.

"Oh, no. Nothing unusual. There was a deer seen on the hills and the men are all up there trailing it. There's not too much food, Jonnie. Not since you went away." Then she realized it sounded like an accusation. "I mean . . ."

She was crying again. Jonnie felt a tug at his heartstrings. She was growing old before her time. She was gaunt, her face bones showing too plainly.

When I said "heartwarming" I was being extremely sarcastic. Jonnie has no immediate reaction, no emotional response to his family member standing at the door, sobbing in relief at his return from the grave. He doesn't hug her, and for all we know he just stood there watching her cry. No thought to her suffering, no fond memories of her time as his caretaker. He hasn't worried about her for even a fleeting moment since leaving the Village of the Idiots, and his first words to her are his worry that he might catch something from returning to it. He only feels that "tug at his heartstrings" when he notices her physical appearance.

I hate this guy. Eragon might be a borderline sociopath, but at least he cares about his family.

Jonnie assures his auntie that Chrissie and Pattie are alive, while being careful not to mention the near-death experience or the remote mines attached to their heads, and introduces his friends. Then it's time to meet the town council, where Jonnie explains that the valley is poisoning them, but not to worry, since he's found an empty town - yes, the mining camp has endured for ten centuries, don't think about it - for them to move into.

Old Jimson (whoever he is) is in favor, but the nefarious Brown Limper holds onto his grudge. When it's time for a vote the result is a tie, which means the issue has to be decided by a village assembly. All twenty-eight villagers come together, which makes a "flaming rage" at the Psychlos surge up in Jonnie for the sad state of his people, despite it being their own fault for sticking around.

Jonnie tries bribery, handing out gifts of food and flints and stainless steel axes, then describing how easy it would be to relocate and how wonderful the new city site is, not to mention how their current position is slowly killing them. And of course the vote for moving turns out to be 3-15. The people feel safe here. It's their home.

Natural selection at work, in other words. And so the chapter ends with an utterly despondent Jonnie righting his father's grave in the cemetery.

Were all his people going to die here? The bitter winter wind moaned down from Highpeak.

Cheer up, Jonnie. You, Chrissie and Pattie escaped, meaning that your people's proud tradition of jaw-dropping stupidity can continue through the ages.

Next chapter: Escape from the Village of the Idiots!

Back to Chapter Three

Part 9, Chapter 3 – Terl Does Not Like the Rocky Mountains

Back at the Psychlo camp, Zzt is worried about his boss. Terl’s in the underground hangars… huh. So they have underground garages but an aboveground airfield for whatever reason? Anyway, Terl’s gotten a crew of workers to help him repair an ancient bomber drone. He’s up in the thing’s front, programming and muttering to himself.

“Scotland . . . Sweden . . .” Terl was saying, consulting his tables and notes and pushing ship buttons. There were no seats in the place, for it would never be piloted, and Terl was hunched uncomfortably on a balance motor housing.

“. . . Russia . . . Alps . . . Italy . . . China . . . no. Alps . . . India . . . China . . . Italy . . . Africa . . .”

“Terl,” said Zzt timidly.

“Shut up,” snapped Terl, not even looking up. “. . . Amazon . . . Andes . . . Mexico . . . Rocky Mountains! Rocky Mountains one, two, and three!”

Yes, that's how Hubbard renders ellipses. I just wanted to make clear how annoying it is when you deal with a lot at once.

Terl’s in full paranoid/vengeful/cover-my-ass mode, and is preparing to wipe out the remnants of humanity with another gas attack. Apparently all of Russia or Africa requires the same amount of bombing as Italy or Scotland. And it looks like Terl wants to be absolutely sure that the Village of the Idiots is wiped off the map. Can't blame him, really.

And that’s not all that’s stupid – the bomber he’s repairing is a thousand-year-old “wreck,” a venerable piece of machinery that was used in the initial invasion and was only around now “as a curiosity piece." Why a mining camp on a pacified planet has held on to a rustbucket for that long, and why said rustbucket has not disintegrated by now, are questions that shall have to go unanswered.

Zzt complains that Terl’s ordered the drone, once repaired, to be on permanent standby, which takes up valuable space in the “automatic firing bay,” and that there’s no war for the heap to fight in. Furthermore, there’s no override to the thing’s controls (why not?!) due to the interference created by its engines (WHAT?!), and its flight path is so erratic that there’s no guarantee it won’t bomb Psychlo camps (how did this thing make it out of testing?!).

Terl rages that his orders are final. A nervous Zzt mentions that the target locations have strange names, and is impressed that Terl’s going through so much trouble to kill a “little handful” of humans.

Terl screamed something and threw the wrench at him. Zzt ducked and it went clanging across the hangar floor, making workers dodge.

“You’re acting kind of insane, Terl,” said Zzt.

“Only alien races ever go insane!” screamed Terl.

Zzt is now my favorite character. Seriously, that was probably the best line in the book.

My new hero considers shooting Terl when a good opportunity presents himself, but knows that the guy probably has an “in case of my death” envelope stashed somewhere. Instead Zzt complains to Numph, who of course is near-comatose and does nothing.

Terl goes back to obsessing over Secret Agent Jayed and checking on the living bombs, who now have firewood, food and water. Apparently Chrissie is doing better and is now upright – so yes, the plot point about the main character’s girlfriend almost dying is finally resolved in a chapter focusing on Terl and all but ignored by the hero in question. “Sometimes he found packages outside the cage door---he chose not to think about how they got there---and threw them in too.” Instead, Terl keeps focusing on Day 93 and the animals’ paycheck, and dreams of committing “the perfect murder” and removing the Jayed problem.

Was he crazy, really? No. Just clever.

He's neither.

All Terl is really doing here is using overkill to cover his tracks. He’s just as paranoid as he used to be, but now he’s ranting and screaming and throwing little temper tantrums too. He was moronic, what with not doing any research on the creatures that his plan relied on, and systematically either wasting resources or endangering his entire operation through gross incompetence or stupidity. Now he’s all that and childish.

So yeah, that’s our Big Bad. He thinks his hostages have a psychic link with his archnemesis/lackey and seemed rather unconcerned about his all-important “leverage” dying on him. Now he’s tossing wrenches and screaming girlishly. Fear him and his devilish cunning!

In related news, Jonnie has a new obstacle to overcome, the gas drone. Which of course he will overcome, because he's Jonnie. It’s just a matter of how many chapters L. Ron decides to drag it out across.

Next time: Return to the Village of the Idiots!

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Part 9, Chapter 2 - Something Falls in a River, Another Something Explodes, and I Just Don't Care

Hey, remember when Chrissie was deathly ill? And Jonnie was wor... fearfu... uh, bothered by it? How'd that turn out? He hasn't given her a thought since Part 9 started. I guess things turned out alright?

Well, it's the day after the Uravan outing and the Scots are doing busy work for the benefit of the alien UAV, by trying to pull the "staircase" platform out of the frozen river it fell into with the help of a flying "drill platform." Unfortunately those stupid teleportation engines can't take the strain and are about to explode, but luckily Jonnie flying a "passenger craft," and helped by Not-A-Fake-Doctor MacDermott are able to throw out lifelines and rescue the crew before the "flying platform" explodes. Dunneldeen's leggings catch fire, but Jonnie skillfully dips the plane so that he lands in a snow bank.

There, I just summarized four pages of tepid action in a single paragraph.

Jonnie resolves that this marks the end of their airborne adventures and dangle-mining, and that instead they're just going to dig a shaft and get at The Lode the long way. And... that's really about it.

The film adaptation pretty much skipped the mining angle of the story in favor of the "preparing to attack an alien empire" plot, and this chapter is a good example why. It just doesn't matter, since Terl's mining scheme is just an excuse for Jonnie to learn the aliens' ways and build an army, and it certainly isn't interesting. When you pick up a book entitled Battlefield Earth, you're not paying for descriptions of mining techniques. I can't imagine why L. Ron thought we'd want to read about a failed attempt to salvage the "staircase" in real time, but then again the rest of this book is pretty baffling too. Eyebones.

On the upside, next chapter Terl is even less sane than usual. There's even a plot point!

Back to Chapter One

Monday, March 8, 2010

Part 9, Chapter 1 - How to Keep Busy During a Blizzard

More mining updates. Jonnie's amateur miners have recovered another ninety pounds of shiny stuff (I can only assume someone brought scales), but one of those hurricane-force winter storms that plague Colorado knocked down the platform. Since the storm will likely keep the recon drone from spotting them, and if it doesn't there's a Jonnie lookalike behind to fool the photos, Jonnie and a half-dozen men are a-huntin' uranium.

I'm-Totally-A-Real-Doctor MacDermott, the historian, has developed "quite a knack for picking up information out of the tattered remains of books," and after sending a minion to dig up ancient texts has found mention of Uravan, so that's where Jonnie's going.

There is hilarity here since, as the Wikipedia article explains, Uravan was winding down even when this book was being written, and as of now has been completely reclaimed by the wilderness. There's also stupidity too, what with Hubbard's suggestion that books left for a thousand years in the moldering remains of America are going to keep like papyrus scrolls sealed in a pot and put in a desert cave. But that isn't anything new.

During the flight, the Scots admit that though Scotland is the best land in the world, America is something else. Of course. Using a map from a schoolbook they find the plateau marking the Uravan site, and even the remains of a road, because the local foliage is a bunch of slackers who would waste a thousand years like that. Naturally, there are ruined buildings, because the difference between ten years and a thousand years is just a few zeros.

Jonnie isn't expecting a great uranium stockpile, but he does want to test his "breathe-gas as a detector" idea. His crew scampers about ore dumps, where Jonnie notes the fences have long since rusted away...

Interesting. Longevity of metal < paper.

Anyway, they release little puffs of breathe-gas all over the place, but see no explosions. Jonnie wanders around morosely, deducing that the site had been mined out even before the apocalypse, and passes the remnants of a corpse: "teeth, fillings, and buttons lying in a certain pattern" on the ground.

Hmm. Teeth > the rest of human skeleton. Longevity of metal fillings > metal fences. Need further experiments comparing buttons to paper.

Then Angus MacTavish comes running about all excited because they got an explosion from a piece of ore in some sort of exhibit. Demonstrating for Jonnie, he puts the gas canister down and hits a remote to open it slightly. "The bottle, its emitting snout flaming like a rocket engine, took off and went about ten feet. The pilot and Angus shouted with delight."

How does Jonnie know what rockets are, if the Psychlos use those idiotic teleportation-based engines? Whatever. The Scots are excited but Jonnie already knows breathe-gas explodes around the radioactive stuff and so is mopey.

"Where in heaven's name was he going to find uranium--lots of it? Where?"

A missile silo, but that's in Part 10.

Back to Part Eight, Chapter Five

Friday, March 5, 2010

Part 8, Chapter 5 - Hubbard's Campaign Uses Psionics

Another meaty chapter. I think I know why it wasn't broken up into L. Ron's habitual dinky chapters - at least four pages of it is a conversation between Terl and Jonnie, with no obvious place to break it apart.

Having solved the Riddle of Numph, Terl is now going bonkers over the Mystery of Jayed. The Psychlo secret agent is doing absolutely nothing, which terrifies Terl, and his efforts to get his secretary Chirk to bed him while wearing a mole-sized camera (!) have gone nowhere. So Terl's been on his best behavior and a model worker, but he's so tempted to cover his tracks that "fifteen times a day Terl decided that he should wipe out the animals and return the machines to storage. And fifteen times a day he decided to go on with it for a little longer." Rats.

We also learn a little bit more about Psychlo society. Terl's speculation over Jayed using some new manner of communications is dismissed because neither the Psychlo government or the mining company have invented anything new "for the last hundred thousand years." So yeah, the apex civilization in the universe(s) has been stagnant since the Middle Paleolithic. The empire is also very hands-off about company procedure, and will only investigate serious crimes - such as teaching aliens Psychlo military secrets.

Terl suspects nothing about the explosive death of the three sentries, but was disturbed when he found a brand burned into the chest hair of one of them - three bars, symbolizing someone "barred from justice procedures, barred from government assistance, and barred from employment." This tells us that someone at Psychlo Resources is slipping, and that apparently the Psychlos don't have Hair Club for Men.

And then to make Terl's day worse, he saw the spy plane photos of the work camp, and a partially-obscured sign written at The Lode indicating that Jonnie wants a meeting, urgent!

And yes, the chapter opened with Terl arriving at the mining camp, followed by a two-page flashback covering what he's been doing for the past two months.

Terl's so frazzled that after shredding the photos (not deleting them from his hard drive, but shredding them, because this is the future) he begins to imagine that they called on him by name. When he drives up the camp he nearly blows up Jonnie, but regrettably holds off.

Terl abruptly asks Jonnie if he killed those sentries the other night. Instead of just lying, Jonnie is... well, not so much cunning as able to take advantage of Terl's stupidity.

"We haven't lost any sentries," [Jonnie] said truthfully.

"You know the sentries I mean. At the compound."

"Have you had trouble?" said Jonnie.

The word trouble almost made Terl's head spin. He didn't know what trouble he had, or what kind of trouble, or from where. He got a grip on himself.

"You obscured the last part of that sign," he said accusingly.

...which Jonnie did on purpose to make sure Terl showed up. But yes, Terl got so hung up on one word that his train of thought was completely derailed, purely by accident. This is our highly devious villain, remember. And our oh-so-special hero.

Jonnie pretends he just wants some advice for how to proceed during winter, then mentions that they need radiation protection because some of the men are falling ill. Terl takes some enjoyment in the idea of ailing man-things, and explains that all the little radiation sources of a planet like Earth is why the breathe-masks and canopies are leaded glass. So I guess the Psychlos are wearing lead-lined uniforms and have lead shells around all their buildings too, since, correct me if I'm wrong, lead is used to protect against gamma radiation, which isn't known for only coming through windows and visors.

Our hero shows off some of the gold he's harvested, but complains that Terl isn't keeping his promise to look after the girls. Terl suspiciously asks how Jonnie knows the girls aren't being cared for, and things get stupid.

Jonnie claims that humans have a special ability Terl isn't aware of: "They have psychic powers sometimes. I have psychic powers with these females." Not telepathy, or anything specific, just some sort of psionic ability. It's such a stupid statement it should have been mistaken for sarcasm. Instead, Terl buys it.

This is where doing the slightest bit of research about the race you're trying to subjugate really pays off. Also, where did Jonnie hear about psychic powers? Ancient tribal legends? The Magical Learning Machines?

Terl has apparently "read about this," and "hadn't realized these animals had it. Damned animals." This just raises further questions, like how many psionic races there are, if Psychlos have mental powers, if it's proven a problem for them in the past, and so forth. Unless telepaths and the like only exist in fiction in this sad universe, and Terl is just a gullible oaf.

Jonnie demands the Terl send a care package to the hostages, or else he might wander over to the compound and start blabbing. Terl snaps that he could send drones to bomb the camp via remote, but apparently remembers that hostages work better if they're alive and agrees to clean up the cage.

So the Psychlo drives off, the Scots come out of hiding where they were covering the scene with machineguns and mention how Terl's going nuts, and everyone agrees that a crazy Terl is more dangerous than a sane one. And now we're ready for Part 9: The Quest for Uranium. I assure you, eventually there is an actual battle in Battlefield Earth. You just can't rush these things, y'know?

Back to Part Eight, Chapter Four

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Part 8, Chapter 4 - A Raid, Complete With Purple Drops

Once again, Jonnie's creeping about under cover of darkness (and heat shield) near the Psychlo base, but this time he's got Dunneldeen and twenty other Scots lurking nearby. The original plan was to take advantage of a herd of cattle and provoke a stampede as a distraction. But the cows moved on, so the Scots will be relying on stealth and those handy heat-reflecting cloaks.

The trick was to raid an enemy who would never know he had been raided. They must not suspect at the compound that the "animals" were hostile. It was a raid that must look like no raid. The Scots must not take any weapons, must not collide with any sentries, must not leave any traces.

Wonder why they're bringing such a large group for a burglary, thus greatly increasing the chances that they'll be caught and doom their whole campaign to liberate Earth. I'm sure there's a sound, tactical reason for it.

Anyway, Jonnie's taking a moment to check on the girls. He has his kill-club, which suggests he's exempt from the "no weapons" rule. Using Blodgett the Horse as a walking shield, he sneaks over to the cage. There's a close call when a sentry lumbers near, but the Psychlo gets distracted by his ear radio and wanders off. When Jonnie reaches the cage, Pattie's the only one that answers.

Turns out the girls' water supply has frozen, they're out of firewood, and Chrissie is even more braindead than usual, lying unresponsive with a fever. He suggests that Pattie lie on the frozen bilgewater to thaw it, and...

"Tell Chrissie I was here. Tell her---" What did girls want to hear, what could he say? "Tell her that I love her." It was true enough.

Attack of the Clones is a better love story than this.

Then Jonnie hears a thump at the target breathe-gas dump, and rushes off. Two sentries are shining flashlights - what, no night vision gear? - around the supply cache. They see Blodgett walking towards them and completely disregard the horse, passing on the opportunity to shoot wildlife as they investigate.

Jonnie saw what had happened. A messily stacked tier of boxes had overturned when someone touched one.

With better night sight than the light-blinded sentries, he saw a Scot move and then began to run away.

No. A sentry saw it. The sentry was raising the blast rifle to fire.

What a bad night! The Psychlos would know the animals were raiding them. A wounded or dead Scot in a heat camouflage cape would give it all away. The Psychlos would retaliate. They'd wipe out the base.

Twenty feet away the sentry was shoving off the safety catch, aiming.

The whole "action sequence" is written like this.

Short version: Jonnie throws a short length of wood at a twelve-foot, hulking alien, bringing it down instantly. Then he charges forward fast enough to grab the second sentry's weapon before he can fire, and twists this six-foot-long firearm out of the alien's skull-crushing grasp, twirls it like a staff, and butts him in the gut. A third guard runs up with pistol drawn (instead of just opening fire), but Jonnie swings his stolen rifle by the muzzle and smashes the enemy's helmet, poisoning the Psychlo. The first guard tries to get up, but another rifle whack knocks his helmet loose and he chokes too.

In other words, a human just defeated three aliens twice his size and strong enough to carry horses underarm in hand-to-hand combat.

Jonnie couldn't fire a weapon, you see, for secrecy's sake. While fighting him, none of the sentries made any loud noises or used their frickin' radios. Regardless, doors start slamming in the compound, so Jonnie plants the rifle barrel-first into the ground, ties a "thong" around the trigger, and hides behind a body with the other end of the string. When the approaching guards reach the fight scene, Jonnie pulls the string and thus the trigger. Instead of just vaporizing the loose dirt that's blocking its barrel, the blast rifle explodes like a bomb. "When the barrel is clogged," Jonnie explains later, "they blow back and explode their whole magazine of five hundred rounds."

So it's obviously not an energy weapon, or a traditional firearm, since neither of those fire shots that ricochet off dirt. So what the hey is a blast rifle?

Our hero withdraws, and two hours later regroups with the others. Dunneldeen comes back late with a box of breathe-gas vials, explaining that he had stuck around to watch the Psychlos' reaction, and giving another worshipful account of how wonderful Jonnie is, in case the readers hadn't caught on yet. Apparently a nearby buffalo got startled by the explosion, and the relief force concluded that the sentries had gone hunting and blown themselves up by clogging their rifle.

The saddest thing is that this implies that such hunting accidents have actually happened before.

And then Hubbard spots a plot hole and assures us that Jonnie remembered to pick up his kill-club, instead of changing the actual fight scene so that it happens then. Was the man just unwilling to revise anything?

Foxy the Robert calls Dunneldeen a "scamp." The other's reply: "Ah, bit we haed tae know noo, didn't we?"

By this point in the story the Scots are only intermittently speaking in dialect, to represent Jonnie becoming familiar with it, or their adoption of a more proper form of English after being exposed to the wonder that is Jonnie. But when they do speak in their "accent," the result is usually like this.

So Jonnie has finally gotten his uranium detector, but now he has to figure out how to stop his favorite ambulatory plot device from dying. Next chapter, he develops psychic powers.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Part 8, Chapter 3 - The Penny Drops

The chapter starts with Jonnie spying on the minesite, worrying about Chrissie. It's been two months since he last visited, and for that matter two months since Terl has checked on the miners.

Flashback! Since Jonnie's dangle-work last chapter, the workers have tried to build a platform on the cliff, but the wind keeps flexing the metal so that it gets red-hot where it's connected to the rock. There's already been two mishaps that nearly killed the Scots were it not for safety lines, and they've only got a few pounds of gold for their trouble. They did find a miraculously-intact abandoned mining village down in a nearby valley to move most of their operations to, but still.

Jonnie is worried about Chrissie, since this is the fifth night he's... what? Yes, the transition from the exposition covering the miners' progress and Jonnie spying on the Psychlo base is really that abrupt. Deal with it, I had to. Anyway, this is the fifth night our hero has snuck out with some binoculars, trying to spot Chrissie's fire.

Flashback! When Jonnie started missing the woman-things, the "Council" got all upset since he is of course irreplaceable, Foxy in particular arguing that "chiefs don't scout." In fact, all of the Scots of the camp had gathered around to support the Council, because they care about Jonnie that much.

So they spend someone replaceable, Young Fearghus (no relation to Young Angus MacTavish, and presumably a different character from Chief Fearghus), who got a shoulder burn when some "one-armed" Psychlo sentry fired into a shadow. Fearghus (Young, not Chief) escaped by howling like a wolf in pain to ease the guards' minds, though whether or not it was intentional is unexplained. Oh, and Fearghus (Scorched, not Chief) was "triumphant rather than cowed, for he had proven the majority opinion right." Which is truly an impressive way to spin getting shot.

All the others agreed: Jonnie must not go scouting. Cut back to Jonnie on a hill, scouting. He waxes philosophical while gazing through binoculars too big for him.

Here they were, a tiny group of a vanishing race, on a planet itself small and out of the way, confronting the most powerful and advanced beings in the universes. From galaxy to galaxy, system to system, world to world, the Psychlos were supreme. They had smashed every sentient race that had ever sought to oppose them, and even those that had tried to cooperate. With advanced technology and a pitiless temperament, the Psychlos had never been successfully opposed in all the rapacious eons of their existence.

Yes, Terl is an example of the "most powerful and advanced beings in the universes." And no, no other lifeforms in existence seems to have figured out the Psychlo + uranium = Super Effective! formula.

Warhammer 40,000 is nowhere near a depressing a setting as L. Ron Hubbard's universe here.

Again, Jonnie laments that they have no uranium, or even a way to detect it. Then Jonnie sweeps his binoculars over the breathe-gas dump, containing canisters of some improbable collection of elements that explodes vigorously in the presence of uranium. Which Jonnie can't detect, because he has nothing he could use to see if any was around. If only some device, or substance could indicate if some uranium were nearby!

Somehow it takes only twenty minutes for him to go from the outskirts of the minesight to his work camp. I guess he drove? Without anyone seeing him? Anyway, he announces that he's figured out their uranium detector problem, and that it's time for a raid.

Which will take place next chapter, of course.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Part 8, Chapter 2 - A Pointless Waste of Paper

Y'know, it'd be nice to know what Terl wants. Yes, the book goes on about the gold getting him a mansion on Psychlo (next to the planetwide necropolis housing the dead of a millennia-old pan-galactic empire, no doubt), or being whispered about by onlookers and having "doors opened to him." But what doors are he interested in? Does Terl want to run for Senate? Does he want to get invited to Psychlo Wesley Snipes' next house party? And what does he want to do with his wealth and power, besides just have it? Money is commonly coveted, but not usually for its own sake.

From the sound of it all Terl wants is attention and a nice house. That bastard!

Oh, the chapter? Jonnie and Robert the Fox and Dunneldeen are at The Lode in their wonky aircraft, trying to mine the gold. Dunneldeen holds the aircraft steady while Jonnie is lowered down on a rope, as Foxy talks about how insanely brave Jonnie is being. Over an hour Jonnie blasts out a flattish ledge they'll be able to expand into a proper mining platform using explosive cord. And that's about it.

Seriously. There's a bit when Jonnie wishes for "mittens" to work with so he doesn't scrape his hands, and when he's getting started he brushes aside Foxy's criticism that he's "a bit wild" as proving he's a true Scot. But that's all that happens.

The best part is that next chapter takes place two months later, meaning that all of this could have been easily covered during its narration about the ongoing mining efforts. So these three pages were almost entirely pointless. I mean, we didn't get any characterization, or learn any insights, or see any action. Jonnie just dangled from the stupidcopter and blew up rocks.

Next time, Jonnie will be about to visit Chrissie's cage, but will spend the entire chapter flashing back to cover what happened in the two months between it and this one, only reaching Chrissie in Chapter 4.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, March 1, 2010

Part 8, Chapter 1 - Jonnie Gives Terl the Rod

We're still like a hundred pages from the actual battle of Battlefield Earth. No, it's not going to be worth the wait. I'm having trouble of thinking of an action sequence that could be worth all this.

Terl and Jonnie are having a chat in a mine drift about how difficult the project will be. Well, Jonnie is, but Terl's distracted and more paranoid than usual. Because when the new crop of workers showed up last chapter, Terl saw him.

(insert Brokeback Psychlo joke here)

Him is officially Snit on the paperwork, but Terl would recognize that "round jowled face, left front fang splintered, discolored mouth and eyebones, mange eroding his paws" anywhere. It's Jayed, agent of the Imperial Bureau of Investigation! The spook is untouchable by Terl's normal surveillance techniques, and so our nefarious villain has been terrified for days over whether Jayed is investigating Numph or him.

Then the POV floats back to Jonnie without so much as a paragraph transition. Jonnie realizes both that Terl is scared, and that the Psychlo miner is helpfully suggesting plans that could get all the humans killed. Handing over the shiny yellow core sample from last chapter helps focus Terl's attention...

He took hold of it. With one talon he delicately dented the gold. Pure gold!

He fondled it.

Suddenly he saw himself on Psychlo: powerful and rich, living in a mansion, doors open to him everywhere. Talons pointing on the street with whispers. "That's Terl!"

"Beautiful," said Terl. "Beautiful."

I'm just going to cough uncomfortably at Terl fondling a long, thin rod one inch wide and six inches long while fantasizing, and move on. He gives orders for Jonnie to stay away from the compound and fly low elsewhere, but is nice enough to let Jonnie plan one more visit to the walking bombs.

And that's it for this chapter. Next time, hot mining action.

Back to Part Seven, Chapter Eight