Friday, April 30, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 7 - Tolneps on a Gas Drone

Since our hero decided to fly without a helmet (or a flight suit, which brings up the question of how Jonnie pulled off his maneuvers without passing out), the narrative goes back to our favorite Psychlo, the one and only Zzt.

He'd been "fluctuating between hope and suspicion" ever since seeing the new plane. Zzt's only friend was his shaftmate Char, who he reckons was killed by Terl (no mention of the logical process that led to this), so he can't imagine who would be rescuing him. Poor guy.

Worse, Nup's reasonable attempt to cling to the drone to avoid falling to his death put the bomber off-center, so Zzt's getting airsick. He's also cold, because even though the drone is 4,223 feet up, it's now entered the Arctic. Zzt can tell, because "ice felt a certain way in the atmosphere."

Guess what? The great circle route from Denver to Glasgow stays just south of Iceland and never goes far enough north to pass the Arctic Circle. So what the heck are they doing up there?

When Jonnie started shooting up the door, Zzt was disappointed he doesn't have a cutting tool to try sawing at the "laminated molecular plating" to help, even though it'd be largely a useless gesture. And then Jonnie's shots began hitting the drone's interior, and Zzt's optimism quickly faded. No miner would just blast off the door when they had a cable ladder and whatnot. Clearly, when traveling at 302 mph it is best to board another aircraft with a rope ladder.

I'd complain about Psychlos not grasping basic physics, but remember that Jonnie wanted to try this as his first option too.

Zzt was wondering if anyone could be trying to steal a gas canister, which of course would be impossible, since the inside of the drone is as miraculously-armored as its exterior, but then some idiot piloted a plane through the door. Managing not to get squashed, Zzt stumbles up to the plane that's landed with "a timing and precision Zzt had never seen before" (stop shilling your Marty Stu, Hubbard!) and looks inside the cockpit to see... a Tolnep!

So Zzt shrieks like a little girl and fires wildly at the armored, blast-proof viewport. Then the plane rolls again and he loses his balance and weapon, which falls out the drone's hatch.

Skidding and catching his breath in sobs, Zzt got behind a distant frame to protect himself. He believed he was one dead Psychlo!

...well, scratch Zzt off the list of likable characters. That leaves... the horses aren't too annoying, are they?

Next time, regrettably, Jonnie regains consciousness.

Back to Chapter Six

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 6 - Blasters > A-Bombs

Jonnie cruises in close, "like a hummingbird flapping along with a buzzard," to get a look at the gas drone.

It looked like a derelict! Here was a mark where an atomic bomb had hit it, there was a scar where possibly a plane had crashed into it leaving the charred remnants of oil and fuel. There a row of minute dents where surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles had struck it. But such marks were notable only for their stains, not for any damage they had done.

I've just given up and accepted that you can nuke-proof an aircraft, and that a barrage of missiles or kamikazes have no impact on the thing's flight path. But I just thought of something else - since there's no breathe-gas on the drone, it's not radiation shielded, right? But don't nukes going off in the upper atmosphere release a pulse of electromagnetic radiation, which is quite effective at frying electronics? Though given the Psychlos' schizophrenic grasp of technology, it wouldn't shock me to find the gas drone run by vacuum tubes.

Jonnie theorizes that after the drone's mission was complete, it crash-landed in and destroyed Colorado Springs. Years later, when the hangars were built at the main Psychlo base, they simply dumped water on it to wash off the radiation... seriously? You can just wash radiation away? Actually, given Hubbard's knowledge on the subject, this isn't shocking at all.

Anyway, Jonnie figures that the Psychlos kept the unmanned doomsday weapon around simply because they had nothing on Earth to take it apart and ship it home. So there are teleporters big enough to send it to Earth, but not to take it back. Also, the Psychlos are fine with such a lethal, invulnerable device being left in a hangar on a backwater mining colony with absolutely pathetic defenses and security, just begging for a rival race to swoop in and steal it.

There's a paragraph of technobabble, something about the "magnetic skids" instead being "whole-molecule reorientation fields" allowing Nup's plane to stick to the drone, which is built of "molecular metal," an unknown alloy that once mixed could be impossible to separate.

He had thought a Psychlo was a monster when he first saw one. Now he was really looking at a monster. An ultimate in indestructibility.

Then our hero notices the drone's loading door is ajar, flapping in the wind every twenty seconds. It's a big door, big enough to accommodate his plane. Can you see where this is going?

First Jonnie tries to shoot the hatch off to give himself a larger window, but even the joints for the doors on this thing are made of Unobtainium and aren't scratched. Nup squawks at the weapons fire, but Jonnie assures him that he's just trying to board and rewire the drone, which is true enough, and then goes back to trying to blast off the door. After a full page of various shots, he manages to get the door stuck open, having superheated the hinges enough to twist them a bit.

Yet a nuclear bomb does nothing.

After some preparation, securing loose objects, watching the rhythm of the bobbing drone, and taking deep breaths, Jonnie prepares for his most improbable feat of acrobatics yet - flying sideways at 302 mph, then rushing forward to match speed with the drone, and landing safely. Instead of matching speed with the drone, then ruddering sideways little by little until you were inside. Maybe those moronic teleporter-driven Psychlo aircraft don't have such basic features.

The only consolation is that Jonnie doesn't quite pull this off, instead scraping the top of his plane on the doorway, coming to a sudden stop thanks to his not-magnetic grip, and bashing his head on his map case, knocking himself unconscious.

I think more chapters need to end with Jonnie suffering head injuries.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 5 - Hello Again, Nup

Jonnie's high in the sky, looking for the dilapidated yet invulnerable automated bomber with enough toxic gas to depopulate Earth (again). And his mind's wandering. He actually worries about Chrissie and Pattie for a few moments, which is a little strange. I mean, they're with the Scots now and as safe as they can be, while when they were hostages with bombs strapped to their necks Jonnie barely gave them a thought.

Then he laments radio silence preventing him from warning the other pilots that the gas drone is aloft, but he realizes that blowing their surprise could cost the Scots their lives. And even if he fails, there should still be time for Foxy the Robert to try a last-ditch attack that could save Scotland, at least. And it's still boggling my mind that Terl didn't sound the alarm when he was up in the air earlier, and that none of the attacked bases got off a single message, and that no Psychlos are worried about the ominous silence shrouding the planet.

Jonnie picks up the "strafer" flying escort to the gas drone, which is good since the latter craft is probably "wave canceled," presumably a needlessly fancy way of saying "stealth." There's a lot of armor on the escort fighter, and Jonnie remembers the two bazooka shots that did nothing to it. He wonders how he's going to deal with the thing until he remembers one of Robert the Fox's sayings: "When you only have two inches of claymore, use ten feet of guile."

Ladies and gentlemen, take note - a cursory Google search suggests that this is not a Scottish proverb. Instead, this is something L. Ron Hubbard came up with for Battlefield Earth that does not completely suck. Well, okay, the whole claymore thing is a bit stereotypical and forced, like saying every Japanese military aphorism involves katanas in some way, but at this point I'll take what I can get.

So Jonnie uses all two inches of his guile and opens up the short-ranged radio to contact the escorting ship, using the name Snit. He gets Executive Administrator Nup, who is very cranky about how things are being run. Nup isn't entirely an idiot, though, and when he notices "Snit"'s accent from learning Psychlo from Chinko instruction discs, he gets suspicious and asks if he's a Bolbod. Jonnie assures the Psychlo that he was born here. "Oh, a colonial!" responds Nup, and that's it.

Guess I was premature about Nup. There's been no sign of young Psychlos on Earth, and Nup seems to think that a child would be learning his primary language from a learning machine rather than naturally, in which case all Psychlos would have Chinko accents.

Jonnie "explains" that the drone's target has changed, and he was sent to tell Nup in person due to the planet-wide radio silence in response to the Bolbod attack (which implies that Nup didn't try to raise anyone at any point during his flight. Geez). Since Nup's running low on fuel, "Snit" suggests the Psychlo magnetically attach his craft to the front end of the drone and ride it until they're near a minesite, at which point he'll be able to drop off and land. The not-sufficiently-suspicious Nup complies.

The only affect this has on the drone is to cause it to roll back and forth slightly from the weight of the off-centered plane now attached to its front. Not enough to change course. What will Jonnie do?!

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 4 - The Adventures of Zzt

And now we're high in the air en route to Scotland, aboard the "deafening, cold and dark" gas drone with your friend and mine, Zzt. The unlucky Psychlo had sunk into "deep apathy" at his plight, but then heard a sound that wasn't the drone's engines, but the "Mark 32 'Hit 'Em Low, Kill 'Em' heavy armored ground strafer." Nup is with him, flying escort!

Zzt's hope fades quickly as, instead of lowering a ladder or something, Nup just keeps in formation, completely oblivious to the fact that the drone has a passenger. He can't even stay with Zzt the whole time - they didn't load up the '32 all the way because they didn't have the fuel "cartridges," so even though the "strafer" is all but immune to enemy fire due to its armor, it'll either have to break off or, if Nup is clueless, just fall out of the sky.

There's a brief moment when Zzt considers wrenching his way into the drone's control box, but the thing is so armored that "not even a piece of blast artillery could open it." So there's nothing left for Zzt to do but resign himself to two or three days of discomfort, the only solace that he has enough breathe-gas to not suffocate. I guess all Psychlos carry around three days' worth of the stuff when they go outdoors?

Just sit and wait. That was all he could do.

Damn Terl! Damn Nup! Damn the company!

And all on half-pay and no bonuses.

Oh Zzt, don't ever change. This was a mercifully-brief chapter, but next time we're back with Jonnie as the process of stopping the gas drone begins to unfold. Slowly. Over fifty excitement-free pages.

Buckle up.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, April 26, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 3 - And Now We're In Cornwall

So now we're riding along with Dunneldeen and his copilot Dwight as they fly to the Psychlo base in Cornwall, having won the lottery for the honor. The Scots have long suffered the predations of this particular alien base, whose inhabitans hunt the humans for sport, and one story has "a raiding party captured and tied to trees and shot tiny bit by tiny bit and man by man for eighteen agonizing days." Note raiding party. Props for your courage, guys, but sometimes it pays to not provoke the huge, advanced alien overlords. Also note that it's another "so who survived to tell the story?" story. Also also note that in order to survive eighteen days tied to a tree, the Psychlos must have been nice enough to administer food, water, and medical attention to keep their victims alive long enough to kill them.

There's a few paragraphs where we hear how 'deen and Dwight waited in their plane all night, and the requisite smooching of Jonnie's buttocks as they remember watching his "incredible" sprint, the Scots "wide-eyed and thrilled." And there's finally mention of "the planetwide radio towers collaps[ing] in a tangle of cables" from bazooka fire, a vital bit of information that Hubbard's belatedly addresses several chapters after it became important.

At least it confirms that none of the other Psychlos are concerned that their HQ just went silent a full twelve hours ago. It gets worse.

'deen brings his plane/tank/car/flying object in at "normal Psychlo approach levels" as he nears the Cornwall site, which is completely unprepared, with no aircraft patrolling and bright lights illuminating all the possible targets below.

The silly apes down there lit up the whole landing area for him! It gleamed like a bloody stage. They thought he was simply some nonscheduled Psychlo flight. Bless radio silence.

At the risk of repeating myself, the Psychlos are not alarmed that they've lost contact with their planetary communications hub. They have no global air traffic controller keeping track of their vehicles and watching the skies for other hostile races. They send no radio messages to incoming aircraft, no greetings, no challenges, no landing instructions. They assume anything flying around is friendly and supposed to be there.

How the hell do these guys run a intergalactic empire? Yes, you could try to handwave this by saying "these are just corporates, not a professional military." Except this is a heavily-militarized corporation, complete with tanks and a superweapon capable of wiping life from a planet (except for everything that isn't human, apparently). Yet here's a glaring hole in their defenses that any species smart enough to build aircraft could take advantage of. And in a thousand years nobody's kicked the Psychlos off Earth.

Oh well, let's watch Dunneldeen blow stuff up. Noting that "the freaks cared nothing about an aerial navigation menace," he spots a "master pole" for their power systems, not far from the "master wheel that, when spun, withdrew the master bus bar from the circuit." While I'm still stumbling through this, 'deen talks with Dwight and quickly improvises an attack of opportunity. They land, 'deen jumps out, and he strolls over to the "bus bar wheel" to turn off the power.

Perhaps realizing that letting him get away with this makes the Psychlos utterly impotent adversaries, Hubbard gives the bad guys a break. They spot Dunneldeen and start wailing about attacking Tolneps, sounding the alarm. But 'deen dashes back into his fighter without so much as getting shot at, turns on the "wave neutralizer and infrared screens" so that the Psychlos won't know which plane is the enemy, and starts firing on "No Flame, Maximum Concussion."

Domes are "squashed like punctured balloons," warehouses are flattened, (nonradioactive) bombs are dropped, and through it all the Scots suffer a single nondamaging hit in retaliation. Since the Psychlos had no time to put on their masks, it's assumed the ones in the domes are all dead, and any survivors are picked off by the flying barbarian duo. And then the pilots loiter for no explained reason, eventually detecting an incoming transport, almost as though they were waiting for it without knowing it. 'deen lands and turns the power back on as a lumbering hauler comes in for a landing, oblivious to the fact that the base is in ruins and strewn with corpses and gutted vehicles. After "fool[ing] around with luggage" and halfway to the compound, the disembarked mob of aliens has a brief moment to realize that something's wrong before they're cut down by the Scots.

For an encore, Dwight hops out and loads the transport with "fuel cartridges" from the local dump before stealing it, and once both craft are clear Dunneldeen drops a dirty bomb on the main breathe-gas storage area that turns the base into "a miniature volcano."

They hoped the other fourteen minesite attack planes had done as well. Of course, perhaps not with the same style.

The one-sided battles are always the most exciting, aren't they? Light casualties, one downed plane - if it weren't for the gas drone that Jonnie will get to disarm in a few chapters, this whole battle to liberate Earth would be pretty anticlimactic. As it is, it'll be drawn-out and anticlimactic.

I took a few minutes to browse Wikipedia for Cornwall facts, mainly out of interest over its name preceding Europe's discovery of corn. Turns out there are some tin and copper mines, except they're all derelict World Heritage sites. There's just enough tin left to consider reopening a mine, but enough to last a thousand years? Unlikely. Either the Psychlos are interested in china clay, or Hubbard just needed an excuse for gung-ho Scotsmen.

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, April 23, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 2 - Jonnie Has a Sandwich

Jonnie meets up with Robert the Fox at the minesite, where the humans have set up camp around the besieged Psychlos. Some of the old women who followed the Scots over are even cooking. Foxy's worried that Jonnie doesn't have his radiation suit on, but our hero waves off his concerns with assurances the water is washing it all away. Now a good author would describe the clouds of mist sweeping across the minesite, the beads of moisture collecting on the suits and cloaks of the Scots, or even wax poetic over how the sunlight scattered into rainbows over the battlefield. Hubbard mentions the water once and forgets about it. Jonnie even sits down on the ground to change clothes, and it's not even damp.

Foxy does a sitrep while Jonnie gets a sammich. Apparently our friend "Bash Our Way to Glory" rolled/floated out of a hangar and took two bazookas to no effect (when other vehicles went down in flames), but didn't counterattack, instead driving into a ravine before surrendering. The Chamco brothers have defected to the "Hockners" for promises of pay; before getting a knife in the gut/heart, Char told them about Terl's murder of Numph, and the Chamcos are convinced Terl has sold them out and launched the drone to wipe out the other Psychlo bases.

Jonnie wants to get going to take down that gas drone, but Robert keeps talking about the sixteen levels of compound below them full of machine shops and vehicles and weapons they'll need to defend the planet, and how one wrong move could turn the place into one big bomb. The Chamcos accidentally let slip that a shot from the air could disable the intake pipes for the breathe-gas recirculators' cooling system and flood the base with that most lethal of substances, air, which would be the best way to take the complex intact.

Robert wants Jonnie to take the shot, but our hero realizes that Foxy is stalling so that other pilots can return and handle the drone. Jonnie's not having any of it, and prepares to leave. The omniscient narrator informs us that Robert has guessed that Jonnie plans on a suicidal attack to disable the drone, and so his farewells are tinged with sadness, but the chapter ends with Jonnie thinking that "Surely, the old man hadn't guessed it." Comedy!

Next chapter, Dunneldeen blows stuff up. Oh yeah, we're still operating under "radio silence" in order to give the Scots flying to the other Psychlo bases the element of surprise. The attack was launched hours ago and none of the other aliens have received a message of warning or wondered why communications have cut off from the main base. We'll see just how embarrassingly sloppy the Psychlos are next chapter.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 1 - Continue Not Panicking

Jonnie remains calm, having read books from a "man-library" describing how to handle confusion. He reduces his horse's speed from a tiring flat-out run to a more sustainable trot, and tries his short-ranged radio. He raises Glencannon, the other downed pilot, who asks if Jonnie got Terl. Jonnie attempts humor with the reply "Yes, but he's all tied up at the moment." Laugh, dammit! This is as funny as this book gets... Intentionally, anyway.

He orders Glencannon back to the compound to take one of the spare planes to provide air cover. When he's closer to the minesite, Jonnie hails a group of Scots including Robert the Fox, tells him the girls are safe, and listens to the cheers. I have a feeling their enthusiasm over Chrissie is going to drop off quickly once the Scots actually meet her. Warning that he has news he can't share over the air, Jonnie orders someone to prepare one of the captured fighters with food, cold weather gear, and explosives. He also commands a party to go up and retrieve Terl and the girls.

It's a short chapter, so we end with Jonnie approaching the compound, still marked by a plume of spraying water, and lit from underneath by blue-green blaster fire and the orange muzzle flashes of assault rifles. But no, we won't get a good taste of combat just yet. Next chapter, Jonnie continues to prepare.

By the way, the reason the humans haven't just blown the breathe-gas and taken down the whole mining complex is because they want to capture it, of course. Angus wants the alien machine shops, and the historian wants access to Psychlo libraries. Pretty reasonable.

Back to Part Twelve, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 8 - Don't Panic

Even from twenty miles away, Jonnie can see the drone launch. He also sees two bazookas explode against it from the fire teams camping the hangar exit, but the Psychlos' armor technology sneers at things like physics and the drone climbs into the sky without pausing. It's quickly followed by an old 32 fighter flying as an escort, which similarly ignores two bazooka impacts. The two alien craft soar off into the northeast.

Jonnie goes "ice cold," and tells himself to stay calm and not panic. This would be significant if he was in the habit of emoting. He ignores Terl's suggestion that he might as well put down the gun and try to make a deal, instead threatening the Psychlo by waving his gun "suggestively." Eww.

Pattie earns points by urging Jonnie to just shoot Terl, since he was a jerk who often failed to feed them and liked suggesting to the girls that Jonnie had been killed (despite not understanding English?!). But Jonnie's being cunning: Terl reluctantly tells him that the drone is set to go to Africa first, then China, Russia, Italy, and finally back here. Because Terl didn't mention Scotland, and that was vaguely the direction the drone was headed in, Jonnie knows that's where it's going. Because the drone couldn't be flying a convoluted course to throw off pursuit, or be headed towards another target to the northeast, such as half of the former US or Canada.

And then Thor, the Scot Jonnie spotted approaching, shows up. His "anti-radiation suit" is torn up and bloodstained, injuries sustained from bailing out of his fighter during the dogfight with Terl, though Chrissie has sacrificed her jacked to make him some bandages. Jonnie tells him to cover Terl, and even gives little Pattie his pistol to help out. Not Chrissie though. Chrissie is useless. Jonnie then uses a knife to strip Terl of his jumpsuit, leaving him in his breathing mask and matted, sweaty fur. Thanks, Hubbard.

Then Jonnie takes the time to rig up some belts to tie Terl's hands behind his neck so that he'll choke himself if he tries to move, but keeps him alive for now. Killing Terl would "solve nothing," you see, and he's probably full of valuable information that he certainly won't distort in order to do as much damage to the humans as possible. Also, we need him as an antagonist for later. And so Jonnie instructs his minions/friends to guard the Psychlo even though Pattie keeps asking if she can shoot him now. Pattie only avoids becoming my favorite character because of what I remember her doing towards the end of the book.

Jonnie reckons it'll take about an hour to ride the twenty miles back to the mining base, where an explosion marks a plane exiting the hangar only to take a bazooka to the face. You'd think the guys inside would catch on by now. From there, Jonnie figures he can steal another fighter, which will be fast enough to catch up to the lumbering gas drone. Terl gives him one last chance to make a deal, adding that even if the humans tried to teleport uranium onto Psychlo, "it's been tried before," and there are forefields strong enough to seal off the whole platform in case of a uranium flash. Since the Psychlo counterattack is inevitable, surely he'd need Terl to help mediate?

Jonnie just looks at him, waves 'bye to the girls, and rides off.

As he raced across the plain, he put out of his mind a thought that kept crowding in. Not all the armed forces of the United States in its days of power had been able to do anything at all to that gas drone. Not with planes, missiles, atomic bombs, or even suicide crashes.

Yes, one thought "crowds" Jonnie's mind, L. Ron confirms it. Also no mention of the rest of the world's military pitching in against the thing. U-S-A! U-S-A!

So ends Part 12, the great human uprising that tried to put the battle in Battlefield Earth. What we got was Jonnie running around pulling cords, a goofy dogfight, and descriptions of a distant skirmish. Told ya it'd be a disappointment.

Back to Part Twelve, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 7 - Tolneps, Hockners, and Bolbods

And we cut instantly to the Psychlo mining base's underground hangars, where... oh. They do have underground hangars. Safe, secure places where hundreds of fightercraft are maintained. Except for the ones they left parked on the surface for the humans to steal. Hubbard tries to handwave this by saying they're those were the "standby, alert" planes, which explains why they were left completely unattended so that nobody noticed a bunch of Scotsmen sitting inside them all night.

Anyway. Zzt (remember him?) is down in these underground hangars having conniptions along with a bunch of other workers. First there was the "wild recoil," which he hasn't figured out was a huge explosion yet, and now there's a rumor that humans are attacking. Zzt, who saw firsthand how Jonnie could learn to use a tractor, doesn't buy this, and suspects it's an attack by the Tolneps.

So hey, another alien race, right out of nowhere. Tolneps are apparently "short, about half the size of a Psychlo," and are immune to gas attacks since they can "breathe almost anything." A useful evolutionary trait, that. You have to wonder why so few species end up with it. These guys are apparently advanced in the ways of military science, as Zzt thinks that only a Tolnep could come up with a weapon that makes Psychlos explode "into a pale green flash."

Yes, in all of the universes, only Jonnie's cavemen have been smart enough to take advantage of the Psychlos' inexplicable and explosive reaction to radiation by making dirty ammo.

Zzt mentally rages at Terl's orders, which have resulted in all the tanks and reserve weaponry being locked down tight in the main base. He also blames Terl for the fact that the ammo and fuel for these vehicles is stored separately a half-mile away, but Hubbard tells us that this is unfair, since Psychlo regulations dictate the placement of ammo dumps and whatnot. Good to know. Then there's the gas drone, which is so huge it blocks the hangar door and prevents any other aircraft from launching. Zzt's been raging at people to move it for two hours to no effect.

Meanwhile the Psychlos are coming to blows over what weapons and fuel they can scavenge as they try to retaliate against their attackers, not that there's any consensus over who they're fighting. The Chamco brothers (remember them?) think they're fighting "Hockners from Duraleb, a system Psychlo had completely whipped two hundred years ago," while Nup (he's new) heard in a bar in Imperial City that a conquest of the Bolbods was in the works and assumes this is a preemptive counterattack.

L. Ron has put more effort into making up alien words in this chapter than he has for the rest of the book.

Even though the only two tanks the Psychlos have managed to launch were almost immediately blown to bits, the Chamcos are trying to get a Basher "Bash Our Way to Glory" tank up and running, Zzt and Nup are readying a Mark 32 "Hit 'Em Low, Kill 'Em." Why am I bothering to write these tanks' names? Because I think they're stupid and want to share the stupidity.

Anyway, Zzt resolves to get rid of the gas drone once and for all by climbing inside the unmanned aircraft and disengaging its magnetic grapnels (after Chirk the secretary saunters in with a "Yoohoo!" and hands over the keys from Terl's desk). Zzt manages to break inside and get to the control panel, but then hilarity ensues as the drone suddenly activates and flies out of the hangar. It's too far for Zzt to jump by the time he runs to the hatch, so he gets to go for a ride.

Well, at least now they could get the battle planes out and end the Tolnep attack.

And all this on half-pay and no bonuses.

Probably that was Terl's doing, too.

Now I know my standards have been lowered by this book, but this chapter wasn't totally awful. It's got Zzt in it, who's probably my favorite character, and he adds "Damn Terl!" every time he thinks or hears the Psychlo's name. Too bad we won't be seeing any Zzt for a few chapters, and next time we're back with the oh-so-lovable Jonnie.

"You imbecile crunch" is apparently a Psychlo insult/curse, by the way. Go crunch yourself? A worthless pile of crunch? It's no "spoony bard," but who knows, it may catch on someday...

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, April 19, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 6 - Astonishing Visual Acuity

Jonnie slips out of his it's-the-future-so-we-use-jetpacks-instead-of-parachutes and readies his gun as he advances on Terl. The Psychlo fell twenty feet out of an aircraft and belly-flopped on the ground while on fire, before rolling himself out on damp grass and lying still. When Jonnie closes to twenty-five feet of his nemesis, Terl uses some sleight of hand to whip out a pistol.

Jonnie blows the weapon up in Terl's hand, of course, and Terl starts to scramble away, displaying no signs of injury from his fiery crash. Jonnie shoots him in the leg and drops him. What can I say, the boy's a natural marksman with xenotech.

Terl goes still again, but Jonnie orders him to "quit shamming," making the Psychlo sit up with a laugh. He explains his survival in the morgue with the fact that he can hold his breath for four minutes, and seems oddly cheerful for someone whose main ambition in life has been crushed and who was very recently on fire.

Torn between going back to the battle raging twenty miles away, finding the girls, and keeping Terl under his gun, Jonnie's choice is made for him when Pattie and Chrissie ride up.

It hit Jonnie suddenly. The shock of not finding them in the cage, the fear that they were still in that holocaust down there, had stayed suspended. He was swept by a tide of relief. They were all right!

I'm trying to remember a chapter when Jonnie worried about the two hostages besides when he found the cage empty just recently. He told the Scots about them a hundred pages or so ago... did he wonder how they were doing when he visited the Village of the Idiots? I pretty sure he thought of Chrissie at least once before that, but I can't remember...

Jonnie waves them in for a reunion, and notices a Scot in camouflage moving closer about four miles away(!). Yes, he's so happy to see the girls again that he's staring off into the distance, searching for his soldiers. Meanwhile, Terl laughingly assures him that "You'll never get away with it, animal. Psychlo will be on this place in a swarm!"

Instead of answering, Jonnie again waves an arm to signal the girls in, either because Chrissie is dense enough to need to be ordered twice or because Hubbard forgot what he'd written half a page ago. We are told that Chrissie is riding Old Pork and Pattie's on Dancer, important facts that will impact the story later. Their reunion is the kind of heartwarming we've come to expect from Hubbard - Chrissie is unable to believe that it's really Jonnie and comes no closer to him, instead "sitting her horse [sic] and crying," while Pattie rushes up to hug Jonnie's waist and gush that he "got the monster!"

Jonnie's first words to his loved ones: "Don't get between me and him." The first thing he notices about Chrissie is how awful she looks, "ghastly pale" with a raw neck wound from her missing collar. Then he alerts her attention to the camo-wearing Scot that can inexplicably be seen from four miles away and sends Chrissie to fetch him.

No signs of affection, questions about their well-being, or any sort of greeting. That's our Jonnie.

He then takes a look at the mining compound twenty miles away, and notices three-hundred-foot plumes of water from the sprinkler system. Terl's still laughing about something, and while Jonnie would very much like to perforate his nemesis, he wants in on the joke too. He asks how the girls got away from Terl - that is, he asks Terl, the lying, untrustworthy alien, instead of Pattie, one of the girls who escaped, and who is standing right next to him. Terl claims that he was simply keeping his word about letting them go.

Oddly enough, Pattie confirms Terl's story, though Jonnie quickly puts together the pieces and realizes that Terl needed an alibi for Char's death and decided to blame the stabbing on two escaping humans. Then he asks Terl how the Psychlo was planning to wipe out the humans. Terl gets permission from Jonnie to retrieve something from his pocket, and pulls out a remote control. He tosses it at Jonnie and laughs. "You took the wrong remote off me, rat brain."

I had to go back and check, but yeah, in Chapter 3 after bobbing Terl on the head, Jonnie retrieves the cage remote from the Psychlo. But either he knew what he was looking for or just assumed the first thing he found was what he needed, because he didn't notice the second remote. Which, unfortunately, has no option to abort on it.

Terl glanced at his watch. "In about ten minutes now, you'll all collect your pay whether you messed up Psychlo or not!" He went into a gale of laughter. "You were after the wrong remote!"

The laughter made him sputter in his face mask. "And here you are," he finally managed, "twenty miles away and you can't do a thing about it. And couldn't anyway!"

He pounded his paws in the dirt, he was laughing so hard.

Terl's obviously never tangled with a Marty Stu before. We end on page 381 of 1083, thus robbing his threat of dooming mankind of any sort of credibility and defusing any tension this sad little plot twist could have prompted.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, April 16, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 5 - Canine-Animal Fight

Interesting that Terl's first impulse when things started going wrong was to jump in a plane he conveniently had keys to and fly away.

Anyway, Jonnie flies a few miles north to where the Scots playing overwatch and Terl are engaged in a no doubt fierce aerial battle. Then Terl's plane breaks off as if fleeing. Jonnie "suddenly" intuits that it's a feint, but is unable to warn his comrades due to radio silence. Because either the Psychlos in the compound below are too stupid to call for help, or the other Psychlos on the planet are too stupid to notice a sudden cessation of communications from the planetary headquarters.

Terl downs the Scots' plane, then cruelly dives to shoot up the ejecting pilots. Jonnie punishes the alien with a salvo from his "artillery blasters" (oi...), but suddenly Terl's plane vanishes, reappearing above Jonnie.

And now I'm confused. Waaaay back in Part 6, Chapter 5 there was an attempt to explain how Psychlo teleportation engines worked. It sounded like aircraft flew around like normal, just with the caveat that they weren't being propelled by thrusters but were instead teleporting along a series of coordinates, which had the same effect while being needless complicated. Now suddenly the ships are just teleporting all over the place without such nonsense. There's no mention of Terl and the Scots winking in and out of existence, constantly shifting position to get a good angle on their enemy. But when Jonnie and Terl start their aerial duel-

Actually, what happens first is another sudden outbreak of telepathy from our hero. "Abruptly Jonnie realized that Terl was going to ignore him and try to get back to the compound and shoot up the ground troops." Unless it's another feint. Or Terl's injured and hit the wrong button. Or Terl's spotted an incoming Psychlo fleet and is moving to regroup with them. Or any number of possible plausible explanations that Jonnie doesn't contemplate because they aren't the right explanation.

Then the aforementioned teleport-spamming dogfight happens. Jonnie puts himself in Terl's way, and then it's the two of them trying to guess where the other'll appear next. Jonnie guesses right for a streak only to belatedly realize it's a trap, and he narrowly avoids being shot down. Then Terl breaks off again, and this time Jonnie remembers that he's facing a wily Psychlo and suspects a trap. But then he sees Chrissie and Pattie on his heat scanners, riding north, "their horses' bellies to the ground as they raced along."

What's Terl's favorite word again? Leverage. Sure enough, when Jonnie opens his radio channel he hears Terl order him to land or else the girls are toast.

...which means that there's nothing preventing Terl from sending a warning to the other Psychlos on the planet, or fighter craft don't have the range to contact distant installations. In either case it makes Jonnie's commitment to radio silence rather pointless.

Instead of caving in, Jonnie rams Terl's ship and engages the magnetic clamps on the underside of every Psychlo warplane. And I must pause, because I just don't understand what happens next. These ships, which are able to teleport around at will, are somehow stuck together now. Their teleportation "motors" are "screaming in discord, fighting against one another in howling dissonance." The planes are suddenly behaving like normal vehicles trying to go in two different directions but stuck together, rather than fantastic vessels that can change position by hundreds of feet in the blink of an eye.

Anyway. Jonnie's gambit is to set his plane's coordinates for "six feet underground, directly below, four thousand feet down, speed control at hypersonic." Then he bails out and engages his jetpack, hoping to frag Terl with his own gun when the Psychlo does the same. But Terl does something different, and once again Jonnie somehow deduces what his opponent is doing.

What Terl was doing in that jerking, fighting mess where one ship's motors fought the other's, was trying to outguess the settings of the plane that rode his back. If he could, both motors would agree. Possibly, then, a quick roll and reversal of the settings would throw the other ship off his back.

And guess what happens? Terl figures out the combination. But then the Psychlo also figures out that he's now on a suicidal course, and starts struggling out of the fatal dive. Yes, dive. He's not teleporting straight into the ground, he's nosediving like a normal plane again. Also note that despite Terl's ship moving at "hypersonic" speeds, Jonnie is able to watch the Psychlo pound buttons in his cockpit.

Five hundred feet above the ground Terl manages to reverse his course, and breaks physics. The sudden 180 degree course change does not turn his aircraft into a metal pancake, but inertia kicks in and carries his ship within twenty feet of the ground. This is the first time in the dogfight that momentum and whatnot has mattered despite the ships changing positions and courses and speeds a ludicrous number of times.

Eh, I never liked physics anyway.

And then, because all this is too much a strain on the two ships' motors, the vehicles explode, forcibly ejecting Terl. As Jonnie jetpacks his way to a hundred feet above the wreck the chapter ends with Terl still rolling.

Why all the exact measurements? I guess Jonnie's got a rangefinder somewhere.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 4 - Boom

So Jonnie's heard the high-pitched wine of a successful teleportation, and is expecting the normal little tremor that comes after it. Instead he gets a huge explosion. The operations dome is sent airborne and aflame, workers and equipment are thrown around like toys, and the cabling around the teleportation platform melts as "wild, aura-like, sheet-lightning bloomed over the transshipment scene!"

Maybe Hubbard meant aurora?

The explosion worries Jonnie, since the bombs weren't supposed to go off for another ten seconds, when they'd be on Psychlo. But... the firing started minutes ago, but since it's a "slow firing" it takes an hour to complete, right? So Jonnie set the bombs to go off somewhere between being on Earth and Psychlo?

Fretting that any moment "Psychlo armament from the home planet could still appear in the sky and crush them," Jonnie hurries to see the next phase of his plan kick off. Scots in camo hurry out of concealment and into position, and then...

Yay! There went the battle planes! Sixteen of them had been manned, each with a pilot and copilot. They had hidden in the planes all night. Keys to them had been placed on each seat.

So, what's worse here? The fact that the Psychlos left their warplanes just sitting in the open instead of in a secure hanger, and had no guards or anyone to notice a bunch of Scots camping out in the craft overnight? Or "yay!"?

While one fighter circles overhead and secures the main minesite, the fifteen others rush off under radio silence to attack the other Psychlo bases on Earth. I guess the Psychlos' communications were sabotaged by the humans, because the alternative is that Jonnie is counting on the ones in Colorado to decide against calling for help.

...wait, how would these Psychlos summon reinforcements from the home planet anyway? They have to teleport their messages around, and - ah, screw it.

Something's awry. There's supposed to be four planes left over on the airfield (why would you not sabotage the planes you aren't going to use? Why would you leave something for the enemy to take off and fight you with?), but Jonnie sees only three. Then he notices that one of the morgue's walls has been knocked down by a coffin! Terl has escaped! And Windsplitter's gone lame from all the rushing about!

So Jonnie sprints back into the compound, dodging blast rifle fire that decides to obey the law that enables heroes to walk briskly through firefights without even a graze. He jumps in the nearest plane, where there's a moment of what passes for tension in this book as Jonnie fumbles with the keys, then he starts the engine and is immediately two thousand feet up in the air, looking for Terl. Below him two bazooka teams and four assault rifle groups move in on the minesite.

See, there's a battle now! So it's exciting! It took us 374 pages, but the humans and aliens are finally shooting at each other! Next chapter even has a dogfight! What more could you want?!

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 3 - Weight Lifting

Jonnie's stealthily slipped out of his coffin, and... wait. The coffins normally weigh seventeen hundred pounds, right? And they're made of lead? Six sides, so the lid is gonna weigh at least 283 pounds. How'd Jonnie just ease his way

Wait, hang on again. The weights listed weren't for empty coffins, right? Jayed came in at seven hundred pounds, and was light for a Psychlo. So say a thousand pounds, probably less since Jayed was so runty, per coffin. That's still at least 166 pounds for the lid. And that weight doesn't sound right. Psychlos are twice the height of humans, so they'd have pretty big coffins. So a 12 x whatever coffin only weighs a thousand pounds? Turns out that just a few weeks ago some guys dug up a thousand-pound lead "burrito" coffin in Rome. So if a Psychlo coffin is at least twice the size of a human coffin, then wouldn't it weight at least twice as much? In that case, the coffin lid should weigh 333 pounds.

So how'd Jonnie get in and out of the thing?

Anyway, our hero has rigged his "picto-recorder player" to run the clip of Terl talking to the corpse last night. You remember, "Jayed, you silly crunch, what a crap lousy I.B.I. agent you were," and "It ain't smart, Jayed, to come in here worrying your betters." That stuff.

So Terl freaks out, rushes in, and starts stomping on the little doodad to shut it up. Then Jonnie lunges forward and "with a motion he had drilled and drilled with a dummy," clubs Terl in the head. And Terl, who weighs three or four times as much as Jonnie, and has a thick reinforced skull, goes down in one hit.

I guess Jonnie really can lift three hundred pounds without breaking a sweat.

Jonnie does something smart and rips off Terl's mask, and the big Psychlo stops breathing, green blood trickling down from his wound, and his eyes "drumming." I don't know either.

Our hero takes Terl's gun but regrettably can't risk the noise of shooting Terl just to be extra-sure, then gets to work, aware that he only has two minutes. He dashes outside, locks the door to the morgue behind him, jumps on Windsplitter, and rides onto the teleportation platform. Then he quickly dismounts and sprints from coffin to coffin, pulling "a little round ring that imperceptibly stood out, just under the lid at the top end," on each of them.

Which nobody seemed to notice while they were loading the coffins. I guess Terl's little "X" scheme wasn't so far-fetched.

In these coffins were ten "planet buster" nuclear missile bombs, forbidden by treaties because they could crack the planet's crust and spray the world with fallout.

Packed around them were the "dirtiest" early radioactive atomic bombs, outlawed because of their extreme pollution potential.

Oookay, where to start.

First, a bomb is dropped, a missile is self-propelled - you can't be both. Second, "planet buster?" Earth's crust is twenty miles thick. We got nothing that can blow through that. Third, why would a cutting-edge missile base be holding on to a bunch of old dilapidated bombs? Fourth, all these weapons are ready to blow a thousand years later (though this has been such a persistant problem in this wretched book that it's barely worth complaining about at this point). And fifth, how did they smuggle in so many bulky explosives? You'd need a forklift or a system of pulleys to load the stupid things.

While Jonnie's arming the bombs with those pull-cords (wouldn't it have been hilarious if one had accidentally caught on something during loading?), the Psychlos are somewhat impotent in their response. They can't shoot their blasters around the teleportation platform for fear of hitting a wire or screwing up the coordinate settings. Instead a few guards lumber after Jonnie, but he throws kill-clubs at them, downing them instantly. Well, except for the last one, who gets close enough to tear Jonnie's sleeve and takes two whacks with a stick to drop. Must have been a mid-boss.

Jonnie's score is: two Psychlo guards (ranged clubbing), one Psychlo guard (close combat), and one Psychlo executive watching from the sidelines (ranged clubbing). While running around arming bombs. Windsplitter gets one with his hooves, too.

Our hulking barbarian hero manages to arm all ten coffin-bombs and rides Windsplitter off the platform with just forty-two seconds to spare before the payload is off to planet Psychlo. He races towards the girls' cage with metal cutters and the remote to the electrified barrier (which he got when?), but finds the door ajar, their shelter empty, and Char's corpse under some robes in their place. The other horses (Old Pork and Dancer, for those who care) are gone, and Jonnie briefly wonders if the girls have escaped somehow.

Take a moment to laugh derisively at the idea of Chrissie actually doing anything.

Since he only has a few more seconds until the firing occurs, his grace period ends, and the shooting starts, Jonnie rides out of the complex and out of sight. Because I guess the cage was right next to the firing platform? And nobody could run away from the platform and shoot at the cage from an angle? Anyway, the familiar humming sound grows louder and louder until the booby-trapped coffins disappear.

Next chapter, the fallout. The wit!

Oh yeah, apparently there was a back-up "suicide squad" of Scots in position in some nearby bushes, but Jonnie demanded that he have his chance to steal the spotlight. I mean, make sure no humans had to die.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 2 - Are We At War Yet?

Maybe the Psychlos' baffling and stupid biology is actually clever symbolism. Like, the fact that their hearts are where their stomachs should be is indicative of their voracious hunger for wealth and resources, you know? Like they're a species ruled entirely by their appetites? And the "eyebones" and "mouthbones" represent... you know what, never mind.

So Jonnie's waiting in a coffin in the minesite morgue, using a "hand viewer" to keep an eye on the outside thanks to a well-placed camera. No mention of air holes. He's a bit tense:

For today in the space of just two exact minutes, he had to cover certain exact grounds and do very drilled and exact things, and to them in an exact time, or the whole project would fail and he would be dead. And Chrissie and Pattie would die as well. And all the Scots and others left on Earth.

It hurts to read sometimes.

Two hundred Psychlos teleport in as part of the annual personnel exchange, and Terl's busy making sure there's no special agents or a replacement Planet Head amongst them. He shoos away Jonnie's horse, which is hanging around the morgue for a mysterious reason, and then Terl starts inspecting his X-marked coffins.

He patted one of them fondly. He took a deep breath. Maybe eight or ten months from now he would be digging these up some dark Psychlo night in the isolated and dreary cemetery on Psychlo. And it would be riches, power! The fruits of his project were hard won. They wouldn't be that hard to spend!

The whole planet has one cemetery?! And you're hoping that the gravediggers or mortuary personnel don't notice the strange markings on the coffin lids when they're being buried, and then leave them alone over a period of ten months?! And nobody will notice a grave-robber sneaking around trying to carry ten lead-weight coffin lids that night?

Things are already going wrong. Terl notices that for Jayed's coffin he misspelled the dead agent's alias of Snit as "Stni," and then the guy operating the space forklift comments that the coffins feel unusually heavy - they normally weigh in at seventeen hundred pounds, but the operator thinks they feel closer to three thousand. And then he asks about Char, who hasn't shown up for his trip home yet. Terl just laughs it off, saying that they should have checked in "the beds of the female admin people" and that Char can catch the next semi-annual teleportation.

Of course the other guy buys it, and the coffins are dumped onto the firing platform. In minutes the process of teleportation will begin, an irreversible hour-long sequence that will send the dead Psychlos home... but suddenly, "from within the morgue, the empty deserted morgue, came a voice!"

Oh, the unbearable tension. Next chapter, an action sequence, I guess.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, April 12, 2010

Part 12, Chapter 1 - Shoulda Worn a Kevlar Girdle

Whoo! Partaaaay! All the Psychlos at the mining base are in the rec dome getting trashed in celebration of Char (who?) and two other executives going home in the morning. Must not have been very popular. It's a frenzy of kerbango pans, Psychlo secretaries enduring good-natured sexual harassment, drunken brawls, and pub games (in SPACE!). Ker was even invited to judge a no-hands kerbango-scarfing contest, while some administrators are chanting an old "school yell" that goes "Psychlo, Psychlo, Psychlo, kill'm, kill'm, kill'm." And suddenly I pine for the musical talents of Tolkien's orcs.

Jokes of a bawdy and discreditable nature were being buffeted at the departing executives. "Have a saucepan on me at the Claw in Imperial City!" "Don't buy more wives than you can handle in one night!" "Tell them a thing or two at the home office about what it's like out here, the mangy slobs!"

Meanwhile, we are informed by omniscient narration that Angus MacTavish has unlocked the morgue with a master key. Duh dun duhn!

And back to Terl. He's feigning drunkenness, of course, and a sloshed Char staggers over to suggest that "Tell'm a thing or two at the home office" would be a good idea, which causes Terl's eyes to "narrow and flame" dangerously. Terl takes Char outside, promising a present, and leads the other Psychlo to the girls' cage, where there won't be any witnesses. To the present.

There's no one around (or is there?) except a herd of buffalo doing some nighttime grazing, a few horses, and an owl hooting somewhere. Terl asks Char what he meant, and Char slurs that he's an old enough miner to smell the difference between a blast gun and blast cap in Numph's office that night. Char mocks Terl for being so sloppy, especially by appointing Ker as deputy just hours before Numph's murder, and promises that once he's back on Psychlo he'll have some interesting things to say about Terl.

So Terl stabs him. "Ten inches of stainelss steel," the knife Jonnie tried to give Chrissie, right in the heart. Char goes down with one blow, bitterly lamenting that he was born to a species with hearts in their soft, unprotected bellies, rather than behind a thick and sturdy ribcage. Terl throws a tarp over the corpse and goes back to the party before anyone gets too suspicious at his absence.

Meanwhile, humans sneak amongst the buffalo they had herded over to the compound and unload their horses. Bum buh bahm! But they didn't witness Char's murder, and so are "unaware that a new factor had been entered into planning, one they did not know about and had not predicted."

They're on a collision course with wackiness, in other words. Next chapter, Jonnie in a coffin. Don't get too excited.

Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Ten

Friday, April 9, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 10 - The Beginning of the Beginning

So Terl takes his gold to an "ancient smelter," which sounds like it used to be a human metallurgy facility that somehow survived a thousand years without maintenance. Par the course.

He doesn't notice a small hole drilled in the shutters he closes, and after sweeping the room for surveillance equipment attributes the dust drifting down from above to rats. Meanwhile, someone turns on two button cameras.

Terl dumps the gold into a cauldron and melts it down, taking care not to vaporize any of it beyond recovery. Then he starts pouring the goods into a mold of a coffin lid - all coffins are locally-made, you see, and due to accidents stemming from bodies that died from radiation, they're all required to be leaden. Make golden coffin lids, spray them with a lead-bismuth coating, and ta-da! The perfect way to smuggle treasure.

Lead was a glut on the market on Psychlo. They had lots of that. They also had plenty of iron and copper and chrome. What were scarce were gold, bauxite, molybdenum and several other metals. And what was absent, thank the evil gods, was uranium and all its family of ores. So the coffins were always made of lead, stiffened up with an alloy or two such as bismuth.

Where to start... well, looks like whatever process went into the formation of planet Psychlo was able to turn the element Chromium into Chrome plating. Also, he actually says "thank the evil gods." This is... I'm speechless. This is supposed to be a book for grown-ups, right? Pure science fiction, right? Then why is the villain acting like a Saturday morning cartoon bad guy, and actually acknowledging how evil he is? And what evil gods?! What gods, period?

I guess I wasn't that speechless after all.

There's a tense moment (for Terl anyway, I stopped caring a long time ago) when he doesn't have quite enough gold for a tenth lid, but he fills up the rest with lead. And there's description of him using "mittens" (ever heard of gloves, Hubbard?) and dregs and demijohns of acid, but I'm skipping it. In the end, he gets his treasure-caskets.

Just in case it wasn't obvious that Terl is Eeeeeevil! we learn that despite all the shenanigans at the minesite, Terl had to drop a blasting cap onto a bunch of miners and sabotage a "tri-wheeler" to bring the number of yearly fatalities up to a full ten.

So Terl carefully marks a little "x" in the corner of his ten gold-filled lids and carefully writes down their future occupants' names, dates and numbers. Then he loads everything up and heads back to base, not noticing that the hole in the shutters is now repaired, or an air vent opening and retrieving the two mini-cameras.

Guess what? When at the morgue, Terl doesn't notice another hole drilled through a wall this time, or another camera that activates after he waves his sneak-sensing probe around. And then, while he's replacing the existing coffins' lids, he talks to Jayed's corpse.

Jayed's was the last one. "Jayed, you silly crunch, what a crap lousy I.B.I. agent you were. It ain't smart, Jayed, to come in here worrying your betters. And what did you get for it?" Terl picked up the lid he'd made,checked the name. "A coffin and a grave burying you under the phony name of Snit."

The glazed eyes seemed to regard him reproachfully.

"No, Jayed," said Terl. "It will do no good to argue. None at all. Neither your murder, nor that of Numph, will ever be traced to me. Goodbye, Jayed!" He slammed the coffin lid down on Jayed.

Sad thing is, at this point such gross incompetence just isn't surprising anymore.

With no thought as to how he'd later recover ten x-marked coffins after they're interred on Psychlo, Terl goes off to bed, again not noticing his silent observers.

Four hours later on this Day 91, Jonnie, Robert the Fox, the council and team members concerned went over and over the picto-recorder pictures. They must not miss the tiniest possibility or the largest option. They could not afford to miss. The fate, not just of themselves, but of galaxies depended upon making no mistakes.

This grand statement is supposed to evoke suspense, excitement. But mostly I'm just dreading the next wave of stupid, and feel sad and achy. But yeah, we're at the bottom of page 359 and the great battle promised in Battlefield Earth's title is imminent. Set your expectations for "low."

Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Nine

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 9 - An Offscreen Explosion? They MUST Be Dead!

Day 89 rolls around. Two hours after sunset we find Terl waiting patiently for his gold outside the nigh-indestructible U.S. Mint of Denver, next to a jalopy of a flatbed truck. To his surprise, his non-Psychlo coworkers arrive right on schedule.

[Their truck] was heavily laden. So they had kept their part of the bargain after all. Yes, animals certainly were stupid.

Why would you go through with this scam if there was any doubt that your minions would actually bring the gold to you?! I hate Terl.

Terl pokes at the gold for a bit and calculates its value to be about "C189,718,800.00," or "several dozen fortunes!" Then he notices that none of the three humans driving the truck are Jonnie - the narrator informs us that it's Dunneldeen, Dwight (who?), and "another Scot." So this Dwight fellow who as far as I can remember has played no part in the story gets a name, but Another Scot, who is similarly pointless, does not. Poor guy.

Dwight knows enough Psychlo to apologize to Terl, saying that Jonnie hurt his foot in an accident and couldn't come. This annoys Terl, but it matches what the recon drone has been showing - a bulldozer (I'm not going to call it a "blade scraper" again, Hubbard) flipped over that afternoon and the blonde-haired fellow who'd been active for months suddenly disappeared. Terl laments that now he can't risk blowing up the girls due to the risk of "psychic powers."

I don't see how. Terl has the gold now, he doesn't need the humans around to help smuggle them to Psychlo or anything. Why can't he just launch the gas drone, "psychic powers" or not? Does he just have to have all the humans clustered together to ensure that three gas bombs kill them all off? If Jonnie's hurt his foot, it's not like he'll have gone far from the minesite. But once again, if Terl used his puny little brain for a moment and acted like a real criminal mastermind, the story would fall to pieces, so an idiot he remains.

Terl and the humans swap trucks, the Psychlo standing "with a waiting smile on his mouthbones" as he watches them drive off in the Psychlo version of the Ford Pinto. But the Scots, being considerably less stupid than Terl, bail out once they've driven/floated out of sight, putting on heat-shielding capes to hide themselves. A hundred yards later the Psynto explodes "with a battering, violent concussion that blew in the buildings on both sides of the street."

Back at the gold-laden flatbed, Terl chuckled. He could hear the patter of pieces beginning to hit as they returned to earth for blocks around. There was a roaring sigh as some buildings collapsed. He was pleased. He would have been more pleased if the animal had been in it. He didn't have to go and look. He wouldn't have found anything anyway. The distance-fused demolition charge had been placed under the cab seats.

So yeah, killing the females will warn Jonnie and somehow ruin Terl's plans, but blowing up the three workers sent to the gold swap apparently won't. Also, ALWAYS CHECK FOR A BODY YOU IDIOT!!! THIS IS BASIC VILLAINY 101 YOU MINDLESS, WRETCHED

Have I mentioned lately that I really hate Terl? I just feel like I need to make this clear.

So yeah, Terl assumes that no one could survive that and doesn't bother to use any of the sophisticated Psychlo sensor suites to check for charred chunks of human in the wreckage. He didn't even witness the vehicle explode, he just listened for the boom. Yet this is "number five of seven alternate, possible actions in booby-trapping and sending the truck back," which means that he's spent a lot of time planning this.

Dunneldeen, Dwight, and Another Scot get picked up by the other humans prowling the area, and thus begins Stage Two of the campaign to retake the planet.

...did it have to be a bomb? Why not just shoot them? Idiot...

Back to Chapter Eight

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 8 - More Shiny Yellow Metal

They find more gold.

That's really about it. Dunneldeen finds a second pocket of gold while drilling on Day 86, and by Day 88 the stuff they find brings their grand total of useless yellow rock to 1,953 pounds. Not quite a ton, but hopefully enough.

The project was on its way!

They began to oil their assault rifles.

The parson prayed long and earnestly for their success. There were no parallels for odds such as these.

No mention of so much as a "thank you" to God for finding the second pocket of gold. Ingrates.

All in all this chapter's just over a page long, and it brings the "we don't have gold" subplot to a disappointing, sudden end. Makes you wonder why Hubbard even bothered. I'm no writer... well, I'm not a professional writer, but aren't subplots supposed to have a purpose beyond delaying the main story? I mean, what did Jonnie learn from all of this? How did he grow as a character? What did we learn about him?

Nothing. He was worried that they wouldn't have enough gold to satisfy Terl, but they abruptly and miraculously found enough. So much for that. There wasn't even any tension over if they'd succeed or not because frankly Jonnie's either used his super specialness or experienced strokes of dumb luck to overcome every other obstacle in this insipid story, so there was never any doubt the gold shortage would inconvenience him much.

There might have been some excitement if the humans couldn't find any gold at all, and they had to come up with some way to either delay Terl or fool him, like maybe by melting it down and coating some boulders with the gold. Then there'd be a race against time until he figured it out. Or maybe they wouldn't be able to stick to the timetable and be forced to launch their rebellion early, thus throwing their plans into disarray and forcing them to... oh, wait... we haven't even been told what the plan is, so it can be all exciting and interesting as it unfolds before us. Which means that it'll succeed. There goes any future tension. We'll just get to watch how they succeed.

Next chapter, an explosion. That's kinda exciting, isn't it?

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 7 - Shiny Yellow Metal

On Day 60, after constant mining in search of gold, the vein faults and disappears completely. Jonnie and Friends have been scouring the ruins of Denver for gold in case this happened, and have recovered a pitiful two ounces from bank vaults and jewelry shops. Fortunately the local mining companies carved their receipts into stone tablets instead of quick-decaying scraps of paper, so the humans know where the gold was shipped, and where it might possibly still be found.

A flight to New York reveals "buildings mostly knocked down but some gold vaults, tunneled into and empty," while Fort Knox is "just a gutted ruin." So yes, those of you who've seen the Battlefield Earth movie, the book is marginally less stupid in that regard.

They had come to the conclusion that the Psychlos, as much as a thousand years ago, had thoroughly gutted this planet in search of gold. They must have even taken it from corpses in the streets, rings from fingers and fillings from teeth. Possibly this, along with the Psychlo sport of hunting humans on days off, accounted for the thoroughness of population wipeout. There was evidence that in the early days of conquest they had even massacred people just for their rings and fillings. They began to understand Terl a little better in his dangerous enterprise to possess the yellow metal for himself. To the humans, the metal meant very little: they had no experience of using it in trade; it was pretty and didn't tarnish and was easily pounded into shape, but stainless steel had a lot more utility. Their own ideas of trade and thrift had to do with useful items that were real wealth.

This from the guy who spent years on the high seas dodging the IRS and founded a "religion" where you shell out thousands of dollars before learning all your problems stem from an alien emperor with a ridiculously overcomplicated approach to population control. I think it says a lot about Hubbard's failures as an author and a decent human being that he has more in common with Battlefield Earth's pathetic and farcically-evil villain than its Marty Stu.

I wonder how many years it took the Psychlos to strip Earth of its gold? City by city, corpse by corpse, good grief that's a monumental task. If they didn't rely solely on foot work, they'd have to have had some sort of gold-detecting scanners... which somehow missed The Lode... eh, not worth the effort of thinking about, really.

Ten days after losing the vein they find it again. In case you were worried.

Jonnie and some less-important cast members poke around the Denver office of the U.S. Mint, hoping for more gold and also searching for that mysterious tank the Psychlos attacked but was never deployed by the military (you remember it, right?). They find a large mound of former vehicle, and whaddya know but the tank "was so thickly built that it had endured the rust of time." The difference between it and the surrounding heaps of rusted metal that used to be cars is an inch or so of armor plating.

Our hero busts into the "tank" and lo and behold, it's actually an armored car filled with two hundred pounds of gold ingots. How convenient. Sure it's not the ton that Terl is demanding, but it's better than nothing. Good thing the Psychlos, who scoured every inch of the planet for the yellow stuff, even stooping to pry it off the fingers of corpses, didn't notice a truck packed with gold bars sitting in the street. They thought it was a tank, which is an easy mistake to make - every time the UPS truck rumbles by, I fire rockets at it thinking it's an attacking enemy T-80. They're usually good sports about it, though.

So all in all the humans have three hundred pounds of gold for Terl. The historian confirms my suspicions and brings up the admittedly mythical science of alchemy, then spends an evening trying to learn how to transmute rocks to more gold. Meanwhile, parson whatshisname checks on the Village of the Idiots and passes on Aunt Ellen's love to Jonnie. Characteristically, Jonnie has no response to this besides suspecting that the parson is "sweet" on the old lady and wishing him luck. That's... generous of him?

They felt bad they couldn't warn other peoples on this planet.

If they failed, man might indeed become extinct.

So to reiterate, on the verge of waging war against the mightiest alien empire ever to exist, our heroes feel "bad."

Next chapter, more miracles.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, April 5, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 6 - Time Passes, but Stupidity Intercepts

100 posts and we're still not fighting for Earth yet. But we're close. We're so very, very close. And it won't be worth the wait at all.

Weeks pass, without much luck regarding gold, as all they can find is more white quartz, which is of course worthless. Everyone's also upset about Terl's horse-maiming spree.

It brought home to all of them the nature of the enemy. Were all Psychlos like that? Yes, unfortunately.

That's right, based on the actions of one individual and Jonnie's limited interactions with other Psychlos, including one who seemed reasonable and friendly enough to work with, every last member of this species numbering countless billions and spread across multiple universes is written off as a monster deserving only extermination.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Beyond the slaughtered horses, Jonnie and the Scots are gearing up for war. Angus (remember who that is? Neither do I) has, thanks to repeated infiltrations of the Psychlo minesite, made "keys to everything in sight." So yes, the race that has transgalactic teleportation down pat hasn't invented the keycard.

By compiling the records of Earth's last stand a thousand years ago, including satellite photos - yes, of course the Psychlos made no effort to knock out mankind's satellite network before invading - Jonnie and I'm-A-Real-Doctor MacDermott discover an anomaly. A Psychlo warplane was reported to have attacked a tank in downtown Denver (I guess they found some Psychlo records?), but according to U.S. intelligence there were no tanks stationed there. But a follow-up statement reveals that the alien aircraft crashed into a mountain (what a surprise, an incompetent Psychlo), and provides the exact coordinates to reach it. Nice of them to take the time to write that down while their planet was being overrun by aliens. And nice of the Psychlos to make no effort to recover one of their fighting vehicles and keep it out of enemy hands.

So it's time for a field trip three hundred miles north. The "battle plane" is excavated, and is shockingly unserviceable despite being buried up to its tail in a snowbank for a thousand years. Despite the humans finding legible books in moldering ruins from the same time period. So in other words, paper > Psychlo warplanes.

I need a minute...


The humans recover the pilot's pistols, jetbacks to be used as emergency parachutes, and carefully examine their masks. Turns out the controls for a warplane are identical to those of the personnel haulers they've been using, save for "gun triggers and switches for a magnetic 'grappler.'" Of course they manage to forge keys to use in the thing, and despite it not working anymore train their pilots with it.

Then there's an alien autopsy, thanks to the pair of mummified Psychlo pilots. The parson, who suddenly doubles as a chirurgeon, dissects the cadavers and learns that Psychlos' "hearts were in back of their belt buckles and their lungs were high in their shoulders. Their brains were very low in the back of the head and the rest of the head was bone."

On the one hand, it's realistic to suppose that the biologies of two species from different planets would be quite different. On the other hand, the Psychlos are humanoid, if big, brutish, and apparently possessing knuckles instead of lips or eyelids, so they're obviously quite similar to humans, and it's therefore surprising that their hearts are not protected by a ribcage but beltbuckles. Kudos, L. Ron Hubbard, for splitting the difference between Starfish Aliens and Rubber Forehead Aliens to find something nice and stupid to settle on - creatures that are mostly human and with recognizable organs, just in profoundly dumb places.

...I mean, given what a shoulder is, how would you have room for a...

Anyway. The parson buries the Psychlos "with proper solemnity" despite them belonging to a godless race of manifestly evil creatures. Somehow the Scots build a model of the mining compound for planning purposes. Stealthy scouts work out all the distances and the times required to cross them in the actual complex. They train replacement horses. They all become "excellent marksmen" with their assault rifles and bazookas (I guess they have plenty of ammo to spare). Foxy the Robert explains that they, a mere "threescore men," have only one chance to attack, and if they fail they'll be up to their eyebrows in Psychlos. Or rather they'll be up to the Psychlos' hearts.

So they're stoically-confident and heroically determined and well-prepared and drilled, but they're still antsy because they don't have all the gold. Luckily this plot point will be resolved next chapter.

Best line from this chapter is when they narrate how tricky it is to deal with Psychlos: "It was like playing a violent kind of chess with maniacs." I should start doing stingers with the best/worst piece of dialogue or narration.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, April 2, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 5 - He Plans to Murder Them, in Other Words

Terl's Day, part 4. Our favorite Psychlo takes an "executive tank" (the M1A1 Executive Edition - grind your enemies to dust in comfort and style) to the Academy, "carefully observed by keen Scottish eyes in the hills" the entire time. He's pleased to see only a few Scots hanging about, all of them invalids from that mining catastrophe, but he wonders how to communicate with them, even after the nearest sentry politely addresses him in Psychlo.

It had never registered on him that he had been addressed in Psychlo, simply because he didn't believe it. Animals were stupid.

Once again, Terl's many deficiencies undermine any acclaim Jonnie could earn from outsmarting him.

Using sign language Terl gets the guard to refer him to Jonnie, but our Psychlo is feeling happy and takes his time, wandering around a bit. He comes across some horses grazing in "a nearby park"... that is also snow-covered... anyway, full of good spirits, Terl uses them for target practice, and is especially pleased when at 200 yards he's still able to break all four legs of a black horse.

This is entirely in character for Terl, since Hubbard has made him as cartoonishly evil as possible, and he's stupidly wasting resources that could be vital to fulfilling his own plans.

Jonnie is drawn by the racket and realizes Terl's back to his old self. After gesturing to a nearby underling to put the maimed horsies out of their misery, he and "his" Psychlo go for a walk.

Terl is quite accommodating, offering Jonnie any equipment necessary to collect all the gold, and comes up with a system of light signals to get Terl's attention in case of an urgent question. Then he gets down to business and details the drop-off: on Day 89, two hours after sunset, a ton of gold is to be delivered to another unbelievably-preserved building in the ruins of Denver. In a heeeelarious bit of irony, the words "U.S. Mint" are still decipherable on the structure in the photo Terl shows Jonnie. Jonnie is to come with two others, and they'll remain until Day 93 because Terl has some other errands for them.

Jonnie agrees, and to keep Terl focused and greedy shows off all the gold they've managed to find so far, just enough to fill a bag. Terl fondles it. Jonnie asks why they're waiting four days after the drop-off, but Terl waves off his concerns.

"But never fear, animal. Come Day 93, you will be paid off. With interest. Compounded. I promise you very faithfully!" He laughed a huge guffaw into his mask, and Jonnie knew that Terl might be feeling high today but he was not entirely sane.

"You'll get everything that's coming to you, animal!" said Terl.

There is a trope called False Reassurance that, when done well, can make even an ordinary villain into someone conniving and clever. Count on L. Ron Hubbard to botch it.

Next time, a salvage operation.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 4 - Midgets in Positions of Authority

Terl's Day, part 3. Now he bounces into the office of the Planetship where Ker is sitting in a chair too big for him, looking depressed and out of place. He has no clue why Numph ordered him appointed as his second, and his sudden and suspicious promotion has earned nothing but resentment from the other workers.

Awww. Poor lil' guy. Whoosa itty bitty sad lil' Psychlo? Issit you? Yessit is!

Terl, with a wonderful smile on his mouthbones, stepped closer. "Now what I'm going to tell you, Ker, I will deny emphatically I ever said, and there is no record and you'll forget this conversation."

Ker was instantly alert. As a hardened criminal he knew better than to trust security chiefs. Ker wriggled in the chair that was too big for him.

"Numph," said Terl, "didn't appoint you."

Ker got very alert!

There's just something inherently pathetic/hilarious about the phrase "got very alert!"

Terl drops his bombshell that it was his machinations that got Ker promoted, but as long as the midget follows orders things will work out swell. Ker is dubious, and theorizes that they'll just teleport in a new Planet Head on the next personnel exchange during Day 92, but Terl shows off his stockpiled evidence about Numph's scam. It's a "hundred-million-credit-a-year swindle" that Ker can keep Numph's usual half of, so long as he continues the practice of denying bonuses, offering half-pay, and greatly overcharging for expenses.

But Ker isn't as stupid as Terl, and wonders what the other Psychlo gets out of this. He doesn't buy Terl's "I am really doing it because I am your friend. Haven't I always protected you?" reply, and points out that Terl has enough dirt on him to get him killed. The other Psychlo admits that he wants Ker to issue the orders Terl wants, but is nice enough to give Ker the cipher Numph used to communicate with Numph's Nephew Nipe, as well as a message assuring the unfortunate relative that though the situation has changed but the arrangement has not. "Condolences. Happy future association."

Ker thinks about if for a few moments, smiles, and slaps paws with Terl to signal his agreement. Terl's only worry is that Ker could get a big head and make some dumb mistake with his new position of power, but comforts himself that he'll be off the planet soon and that "Any potential alliance Jonnie might have had with Ker was wholly and totally severed."

Well, I think that's Terl's thoughts. That last sentence is in a separate paragraph and the last words in the chapter, so it could be a sudden outbreak of Omniscient Narrator. It's kind of an odd thing to say, since it's been several Parts since Ker and Jonnie have had any interaction, and a "potential alliance" wasn't exactly much of a sub-plot. Instead we got to see Terl obsess about Jayed.

I was briefly considering trying to do an April Fool's joke for this chapter. I'd describe how Terl enters Ker's office only to be confronted by a scarily cool and in control Ker, who holds up the evidence Terl thought he hid away safely "in case of death," shoots Terl in the face, launches the gas drone, and draws up plans to attach a remote-controlled crane for the recon drone so that he can pick up the gold from The Lode. But I figured such a shocking outbreak of sudden competence wouldn't fool anybody.

Next chapter, Terl rather transparently foreshadows his inevitable betrayal.

...If he had just been patient, he could have bumped off Numph and taken his half of the scam, but noooo, he had to have gold...

Back to Chapter Three