Monday, May 24, 2010

Part 15, Chapter 1 - So if a Vampire Bites a King...

So, where were we?

Ah yes. Jonnie saved the day using his awesome powers of wrenching and crashed into the ocean, but the chapter and section ended with his rescue. I guess now we'll cut to some time later and-

Fleeting impressions, half-seen through a wall composed of darkness and pain. Dim consciousness of being in a ship and landing. Of someone spooning broth at him. Of being carried in a stretcher with rain on the blankets. Of a stone-walled room. Of different faces. Of whispered conversations. Of another stretcher. Of another plane. And a pain in his arm. He sank back into darkness. He thought he was in the drone again. He opened his eyes. He saw Dunneldeen's face. He must still be in the sea. But no, he was not cold, he was warm.

...Or we can see his recovery in real time.

Jonnie's in a makeshift infirmary on a passenger air(?)craft, surrounded by "a lot of boots and kilts." He notices that a tube is connecting his arm to Dunneldeen's, and the smiling Scot assures Jonnie that he's "singularly fortunate. You are getting the royal blood of the Stewarts, no less, which puts you into direct line, after me, of course, to the throne of Scotland."

Two things here.

First, dammit Hubbard. Your obnoxious Marty Stu is already ruggedly handsome, an emotionally-stunted twerp who nevertheless enjoys the undying affection of a comely young woman, strong enough to take down Psychlos in close combat, a crack shot with alien weapons, an expert pilot, a natural leader able to convince hundreds of strangers to do his bidding, the de facto head of the planetary resistance, and some sort of genius caveman able to quickly grasp alien weaponry and form tactics to defeat them. Why does he have to be royalty too?! Actually, I'm hoping that 'deen's joking here, but why would you even suggest this?!

Second, I'm pretty sure royal succession doesn't work that way. Otherwise history would be rife with lunatics kidnapping and exsanguinating royalty before enjoying a nice warm mug of kingsblood. Though that would be pretty metal.

Anyway, Jonnie's being tended to by a doctor from a century-old underground hospital in Scotland (sure, why not), who's quite concerned about his patient. Jonnie's got one of the worst skull injuries he's ever seen, and the doctor works in Scotland!

Jonnie starts asking about what's happened in the day or two since his triumphant and unplanned swim in the Atlantic. Dunneldeen describes how he and Dwight found Jonnie thanks to the pillar of flame from the stricken drone bomber lighting up the sky like a beacon. One of the chieftains grumbles that actually Dwight just found Jonnie on instruments, but 'deen waves this off since the "beacon fire" story sounds better, and will be the one in the history books.

But our hero is more interested in casualty reports from the blitz against the Psychlo bases. Turns out only two Scots died, and there were only twenty-one injured, including Jonnie. Which just kinda underscores how pathetic a showing the big bad Psychlos put up.

Then 'deen introduces Jonnie to some representatives for the World Federation for the Unification of the Human Race (actually four guys with the same blood type as Jonnie), and assures him that things are looking good. They've recruited some Russians to help refurbish the Rocky Mountains bunker, and the gas drone is well and truly neutralized, since the Chamco brothers assure them that common salt renders "kill-gas" harmless.

Yep. Salt. For all I know this is entirely plausible, but like the "one isotope of uranium makes Psychlos explode" reaction it just feels stupidly convenient.

The plane, along with ten escort fighters, is en route to Colorado to hole up. Nobody knows if the doomsday devices were successful, so they want to get fortified in case a Psychlo response is incoming. In the meantime, Dunneldeen asks that Jonnie get on the radio so that all of his adoring underlings can know that he's still alive, since they're all helpless without Jonnie around to be the main character. Jonnie's voice is weak and he's confused why everyone thinks he's so important (so humble), but he mumbles that he's fine into a mic.

Then Jonnie's given some dosed whiskey and put to sleep, and the doctor gets out his trephine because his patient's brain is being pressed in three places, and 'deen goes to the cockpit to hear Dwight complain that everyone's calling in every three minutes for news about Jonnie, and 'deen is crying, and blargh.

Jonnie's in no danger. There are precious few works of fiction willing to kill off their main characters in the middle of the story, which makes situations where they are put in danger sort of tricky. How do you maintain suspense if you're all but certain the hero is going to survive? Especially if there's seven books left in the series and they all have the same guy on the cover, or in this book's case, there's till six hundred or so pages left.

The question in most cases is not if the character will survive, but how. What will they learn from their injuries? What reserves of inner strength will they draw upon? Will their trauma be a later plot point, a future obstacle to overcome? Is this just an excuse to introduce a new character? Or is this a reminder that the hero is mortal and fallible?

There's a purpose to it, in other words. But in this case, with Jonnie... well... He doesn't have much of a personality to begin with, and it doesn't really change after this little injury arc. He's survived an exploding tractor, a stampede of wild boars, a tussle with a bear, Terl's lethal attempts at pet care, and getting bit by a window, all of which happened and promptly ceased to have any effect on the story.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Jonnie's current near-death experience merely serves to highlight how awesome he is. "Wow, he got hit in the head with a metal plate, fell in the icy Atlantic, and still survived?! He's sooooo cool!"

So, blargh. No suspense, no reason for it, just another road bump on the way towards this sad story's conclusion.

Back to Part Fourteen, Chapter Seven

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Intermission, Of Sorts

Let's review.

Jonnie, a human from a remarkably primitive tribe living in a valley in Colorado, goes exploring in the thousand-year-old ruins of civilization from before an alien invasion. In a hilarious coincidence, Terl, a greedy alien security officer, is having a holiday in those same ruins, and has a scheme to collect some gold and become wealthy with the help of human slaves. After nearly killing Jonnie through his staggering incompetence, Terl brings his pet human back to the mining base he works at and sets about training him.

After a few futile escape attempts, Jonnie is introduced to learning machines that let him quickly grasp the aliens' language and technology. There's a pointless sequence where Jonnie's debut on a tractor is sabotaged by another alien for giggles, but Terl eventually blackmails his superior into going along with his plan to acquire human workers. Oh, and Jonnie's vapid girlfriend gets captured too.

Terl takes Jonnie to Scotland where the plucky little human is able to bend hundreds of strangers to his will. While ostensibly mining Terl's gold for him, the barely-supervised humans scurry about collecting ancient weapons for use against the aliens dominating Earth. Then, just when Terl thinks they've gathered his retirement fund and is about to kill them off to cover his tracks, the humans strike. They teleport "planet-buster" bombs to the alien homeworld and launch a coordinated attack on the alien bases scattered across Earth, taking them completely by surprise. As a last act of spite Terl launches a drone bomber that could gas the remnants of humanity out of existence, but Jonnie manages to board and sabotage it, just barely surviving the ordeal.

Putting it like that, Battlefield Earth doesn't sound so bad, does it? A nice little story that ends on a triumphant, if somewhat uncertain note - sure, the humans have pantsed the aliens and retaken Earth, but they're still not sure if their attack on the alien homeworld was successful or not. But all in all, not a bad place for the book to end.

Except it doesn't. We've had our "climax," but there's no denouement or anything. Instead we get 632 more pages of stuff happening afterward. Next Part has Jonnie recovering from his injuries, and then we get what Hubbard passes as political intrigue, and then there's the excitement of Jonnie trying to master Psychlo mathematics. There's a dogfight later, and a few explosions, and cannibals, but nothing to live up to the "liberate the planet" plot.

I think I've said this already, but my theory is that Hubbard realized he couldn't Mission Earth this one, that few people would read the four hundred and fifty pages covered so far and want to pay for more of the Battlefield Earth saga.

I mean, we have Jonnie, who is about as endearing as a brick and unstoppable to the point of boredom, and a bunch of Scottish stereotypes, and some supposedly nefarious alien villains who lack the foresight and common sense to run a McDonald's. The Psychlos are huge, hulking monsters that are tossed around by Jonnie in close combat with little effort. The aliens possess devastating weapons that are handily defeated by bazookas or Jonnie and a wrench. The Psychlo empire is an unstoppable military juggernaut that doesn't even make an appearance. The actual battle for Earth, hyped for hundreds of pages, is over in a flash and completely one-sided. I think the book spent more time covering the humans' search for gold or uranium than it did on the liberation of the planet.

Oh, almost forgot Chrissie. Wonder why.

And the plot holes! Why is the invulnerable bomber drone given a stealth suite but not the Pscyhlo fighters? How are the Psychlos able to launch surprise teleportation attacks if living creatures require a "slow firing" to arrive safely and still comes out shaken and disoriented? How can an empire that spans universes function if its communications system is correspondence teleported around?

And then there's the science. Radiation you can just wash off. Alien air that explodes in the presence of a single isotope of uranium. Teleportation engines that propel aircraft forward instead of actually teleporting them to their destination. Invincible armor that sometimes isn't. Nuke-proof aircraft. The only technology I accept without question is the Psychlos' blaster weapons, and that's because Hubbard hasn't tried to explain how they work.

The point I'm trying to make is that this isn't a good book. And it's not over. We're not even halfway done with it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 7 - Mission (Finally) Accomplished

You know what's weird? Jonnie triggered an explosion powerful enough to get the absurdly tough gas drone to slew about, but it had no effect on its payload. It'd be pretty hilarious if there was now a cloud of concentrated toxic fumes spreading through the atmosphere over the Atlantic.

Anyway, as Jonnie's preparing for an unplanned return to sea level, he just barely manages to avoid crashing into the plummeting drone. After it whizzes past, Jonnie's ship is buffeted by a plume of water two hundred feet high. He has enough time to open his windows before hitting the sea.

He's knocked out by the crash (not killed, of course, oh no) but woken right up by bitterly cold seawater flooding his ship. Jonnie is filled with "a sudden surge of energy" even while hit by the futility of his actions, which is a little confusing. Nonetheless he frees himself from his seatbelt and floats to the rainy surface.

Jonnie thinks he hears a voice, which he puts down to stories of the dying being called by angels, but then he's hit in the face by a safety line. It's Dunneldeen! Yay! Dunneldeen's dangling just four feet away by a cable ladder, and he reels Jonnie in.

"Come on now, laddie," Dunneldeen said. "Just hold on and they'll pull you up to the plane. 'Tis a wee bit cold for a swim."

So, after chasing down a drone bomber that's conveniently slow and conveniently tailed by a Psychlo fighter that isn't invisible to sensors, Jonnie boards the drone through a conveniently open door, sparks a firefight that conveniently destroys the other plane to get the attention of Dwight, conveniently manages to find a weakness in a mind-numbingly invulnerable aircraft, and is conveniently rescued mere minutes after surviving a crash into the middle of the Atlantic during a storm.

I know fiction thrives on coincidences and twists of fate, but there ought to be a limit to how much you pull off in a given section.

Back to Part Fourteen, Chapter Six

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 6 - That Took Bloody Long Enough

It's about now, when Jonnie's in his plane preparing to take the shot to start the chain reaction to blow up the drone, that he realizes that his options for survival are kind of limited, what with the head injury and blood loss and all. The jetpacks are gone, but he does find a life raft he inflates halfway before realizing that he couldn't fit it onto the plane with him to use. Instead he busies himself securing his cockpit and pitching all the loose objects that could further injure him once a blast sends them flying.

Then there's nothing else to do but strap himself in and prepare to fire. As he switches the guns to "Full Barrage," "Flame," and "Ready," Jonnie notices that the drone's tilted so that the door is lower, towards the sea. He puts this down to the magnets of the limpet mines messing with those idiotic teleportation engines. So strong magnetic fields impair Psychlo engines? Why? How? Hasn't this proven a problem before? Nobody's weaponized this drawback? Whatever.

Jonnie releases the magnetic landing gear of his plane, starts the engine, and takes the shot as he slides out the door. Ka-boom.

The drone looked like an old rocket missile must have looked. It was soaring upward as though the door was the jet!

The physicist in me that my Physics teacher did not completely kill is weeping. Let's review: missile strikes on the drone's exterior armor - nothing. Kamikaze attacks - nothing. Nuclear bombs - nothing. But a fuel explosion in the drone's (armored) interior knocks it wildly off-course. Now you could make the argument that Jonnie prying off that panel to expose the engine is what's key here, but the drone is described as being propelled by the explosion, not veering off-course from a trashed engine. Somehow a fuel accident has done what the A-bomb can't - make the drone behave like a physical object.

Oh, and Jonnie's not dead, but his right "balance motor" has failed and he's rolling out of control, tumbling from of the sky despite him desperately "punch[ing] in coordinates to arrest his backward descent." Oh no. Could this be the end of Jonnie?

Hell no. It's page 449. We're not even halfway through the book yet. But fortunately, we're almost done with this section. And we're out of the gas drone for good.

Back to Chapter Five

Monday, May 17, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 5 - By Popular Demand, More Gas Drone

Guess where we are again?

Jonnie drifted up out of a pit of black pain. He tried to orient himself. The drone motors were like shouting anger in his ears. His arms were hanging down into a gap in the floor plating. Blood had run along the sleeves and dried.

Yay. More gas drone.

Jonnie unties himself from the elastic safety line, having trouble thinking coherently due to his multiple injuries. He notices that the drone's flying through a storm, but that it's also daylight, so he must have been out for a while. It won't be long before Scotland gets gassed. Jonnie opens the plane door to check his compass, gets distracted by Zzt's sabotage, realizes that he's getting distracted and checks the compress on his head, then remembers what he was doing and checks his heading on the compass.

Credit where it's due, this kind of mindless, rambling activity does a good job of conveying how addled Jonnie is. Since I'm loath to compliment Hubbard, I'll take a cheap shot and add that when it comes to scrambled brains, Hubbard is writing from experience. Burn!

Changing his air mask for a fresh bottle of oxygen helps Jonnie get a grip, so he starts trying to sabotage the drone. He gathers six limpet mines from his plane, some assorted explosive equipment, and gets back into the drone's guts, working on that access panel he tried to open a few chapters ago. This time he succeeds, exposing the interior of the drone's baffling teleportation-based engines.

There were some small electrical sparks arcing in there. He knew very well you were not supposed to get into a motor when it was running. And certainly not put a hand to one. It was said it gave a paw a funny feeling like it wasn't there, and then was, and then wasn't there. One could lose a paw, Ker had said.

There's some nonsense about the arcs not being electricity, but energy from the space coordinate (in terms of pure space) conversion process as the engine propels the ship through thousands of coordinates, as opposed to simply materializing at the end point of the programmed course, but whatever. Jonnie resolves to blow up the little "submotor" to knock out the drone's "space converter," which as we all know would make it fall out of the air.

After getting distracted again and nibbling some venison, Jonnie ties his mines into a bundle. This reminds him of Chrissie making garlands of flowers for Jonnie's pony when she was a little girl, which if I recall is the first time that he's actually reminisced about his love interest. That's right, you have to smash Jonnie's skull in until he's on the edge of death before he thinks about his girlfriend.

Jonnie lowers his bundle o' boom into the drone's innards by a blast cord, which he plans on detonating with shots from his crashed plane. But as he inspects his handiwork he notices fuel cartridges down in the access space. Seeking more boom, Jonnie stars unscrewing the caps of the cartridges - the drone requires hundreds of them, and if an explosion blasts back into the fuel cells - "oh, my!"

He checked everything again.

The drone soared out. But not for long, he told himself grimly.

That part's true, at least. Just two chapters until we're done with this. "This" being the tedious gas drone sequence, not the book. Not by a long shot.

Back to Chapter Four

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 4 - A Brief Respite, an Unlikable New Character

Enough of the drone for a moment.

The small boy sped on feet of fire through the underground passages of the dungeons of the castle. He was soaked with the rain that fell outside. His bonnet was askew. His eyes were glowing with the urgency of a message he had carried for a two-mile sprint through the dawn twilight.

We're in Scotland, where besides temporary, easy-to-pack-up-in-case-of-attack villages by the lake, there's a castle. The ruins above are kept pristine while the dungeons have been expanded into an underground base. Yes, ruins that were already centuries old have survived another thousand years. This is Battlefield Earth, where things last as long as they have to.

Dunneldeen had come home, gathered the chiefs, and announced that the Cornwall minesite was destroyed meaning that the Scots were free to inva... explore the rest of England. After that 'deen had gone up to "a lass" to propose. "Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Oh, yes, Dunneldeen!" Then he'd gone home to bed.


This flame-footed messenger is Bittie MacLeod, who barges into "Prince" Dunneldeen's room to rouse him. Turns out 'deen's uncle, Clanfearghus' chief, is also the last Stewart and the rightful king of Scotland, though nobody makes a big deal about this. So why is it even in the story?

Anyway. Bittie says that 'deen's "squire" - why is it that the apocalypse brings back feudalism in certain places? Do all Scots secretly crave a social structure built around land rights? And why doesn't this ever happen in America? Anyway, Dwight passed a message to Bittie, who impatiently waits for 'deen to get dressed, even insisting that they bring along a five-foot "claidheamhmor." 'deen lets the brat carry it if he wants it so badly, even though it's a foot taller than Bittie is. Suddenly I like Dunneldeen.

They move at a leisurely pace until Bittie remembers the second half of Dwight's message, or rather, doesn't quite. He adds that Dwight wanted 'deen to "squiggle," or something that sounded like it. 'deen asks if he meant "scramble." Bittie says yes. Then they take off at full speed.


Dwight's been on watch listening to the radio, and picked up a conversation about Nup, Zzt, Snit, and a drone. He'd even flown up to 200,000 feet ("Almost tore my heart and lungs out with gravity") and saw a distant explosion and a ship crashing into the sea. Dwight wants to go back up to patrol, but 'deen is confident they won't find anything. The chapter ends with them both wondering what's going on.

Back to Chapter Three

Part 14, Chapter 3 - Droning On and On and On...

Jonnie wakes from a nightmare about a demon bashing his head in and finds himself in a crawlspace on the gas drone with his head bashed in. He managed to tie a "wound pad" over the back of his head before passing out, and isn't sure if it's soft from a fracture or swelling. He does notice that he's got his revolver hanging from a strap around his neck, and it has one bullet left (which will of course be enough).

Apparently the noise Zzt was making managed to wake Jonnie (despite the constant roaring of the gas drone's engines), and he peeks out to see the Psychlo on the radio. Ignoring his instinct to take the shot, Jonnie waits to see what's going on, fighting off unconsciousness the whole time. He watches Zzt smash the radio and go over to a cable ladder. Jonnie crawls out of his hiding space, wraps a nearby safety line aroun... hmm. Didn't Zzt have Nup reel in his plane's safety line? Oh wait, the line Jonnie found was attached to his plane. Huh. When'd he get that out?

Let me check last chapter.

Zzt did it. After saying "Devil with it" about Nup's safety line, Zzt got out Jonnie's safety line, couldn't figure out what to do with it, said "Devil with it" again, and left it on the floor for Jonnie to use in this scene. Wow. I mean, there's the Law of Conservation of Detail, and then there's painfully obvious and unnatural set-ups like this.

Anyway, Jonnie attaches the safety line to himself and watches Zzt climb. Then he notices the ore basket filled with fuel cartridges and ammo. When Zzt pauses to yell at Nup to open the door wider, Jonnie raises his Smith and Wesson .457 magnum and shoots the basket. And whaddya know, but he hits it.

Enough fuel and ammunition for twenty battles not only went up, it also flashed down into the open fuel and ammunition receptacles!

...Of Jonnie's plane? I guess. I also can't help but wonder why the ammo had to be in the basket too. Surely "twenty battles'" worth of fuel would make a big enough kaboom? But no, we have to have a Psychlo being stupid and not checking what he's carrying around.

The Mark 32 fighter, which is able to ignore direct hits by bazookas, is destroyed by the fireball, and Zzt tumbles out of sight aflame. Jonnie is blasted out of the drone, but wouldn't you know it but the safety line "snap[s] him back inside the door" like a bungee cord. He starts passing out again, realizing that he just blew up the only thing that'd show up on radar and help other pilots find him. D'oh.

The body on the icy floor just inside the door did not move.

The lethal cargo soared onward toward Scotland and the rest of the world, its goal the final obliteration of the remainder of the human race, the ones it had missed a thousand or more years ago.

I still don't get the gas drone. In a realistic world, one bomber would not be able to carry enough gas to blanket the Earth with enough poison to wipe out the majority of mankind. In an unrealistic world, sure, chemical weapons magically seek out and terminate your targets without regard to the behavior of gases. Hubbard's world is some sort of compromise, where a single alien bomber can wipe out most of the world's population. And here it goes, not flying with a full payload, not doing a decisive carpet-bombing, just hitting the top dozen or so places Terl thinks some humans are hiding - though it's hitting the Rockies three times, to make really sure the Village of the Idiots is wiped off the map.

I guess it's dangerous, but it doesn't feel like an apocalyptic threat. Then again Jonnie doesn't feel heroic, Terl doesn't feel devious, and the Psychlos don't feel like world-conquering overlords, so whatever.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 2 - Oh Look, Back on the Gas Drone

And now for more Zzt. The least annoying of Psychlos is pretty pleased with himself for beaning Jonnie, though a little disappointed it wasn't a decapitating direct hit. But there's a lot of blood, Jonnie's teetering in and out of consciousness, and now the puny human has crawled into a loading hole too big for Psychlos.

After waiting a bit without seeing any activity, Zzt peeks into the dark cranny, only to have his flashlight and mirror shot out of his hands (which Hubbard doesn't call paws all the time). He ducks out of sight and waits.

For quite a while, he expected the animal to pop out and shoot. But nothing like that happened. He finally concluded that the animal had crawled in there and died. There sure was enough blood. Bled to death, probably. Zzt beamed happily.

Well, enough! Zzt decided he better get to work.

Aaaaand there goes what little regard I had left for Zzt. You'd think as backstabby a race as the Psychlos would have the "if you haven't found the body, it isn't dead" rule down by now.

Zzt gets a radio and wakes up Nup, who's a little confused and wondering about where "Snit" went, but is eventually browbeaten into moving his ship and landing over the drone's open door to help block the wind. Then Zzt salvages the spare fuel cartridges from Jonnie's plane, and tears out some wiring to sabotage the human's craft.

Which is a pretty strange thing to do. Zzt is convinced that Jonnie is dead at this point, and isn't watching his back or worrying about an ambush. There's no reason for him to mess up the crashed plane... besides, of course, to create another obstacle for Jonnie to prove his awesomeness by overcoming. But how would Zzt know that, I wonder?

The Psychlo gets Nup to drop a cable ladder and gets it secured, but tells Nup to pull back the safety line. "Devil with it, he didn't need it." And now apparently Psychlo mythology includes a devil figure. Or else Hubbard forgot he was writing about an alien.

An ore basket hauls up the bag of fuel cartridges, which Zzt belatedly realizes might contain ammo too, but he hadn't bothered to check. This will certainly not be important later. Zzt mentally shrugs and busies himself with finding a jet pack, just in case.

There were two there. He brought out both. He threw one over the side and put the other on. Left the animal with no out. But of course the animal was dead. And good riddance. Damn Terl!

He did it again. And immediately afterward Zzt smashes his radio, even though "he'd be shooting this thing to pieces later" - the "thing" being the invulnerable gas drone, mind you - "but caution was always best."

Then why haven't you found Jonnie's body and shot a... screw it. The chapter ends with Zzt starting his climb, with a full and happy life ahead of him.

You know what would've been hilarious? If Zzt hauled something too heavy for a human to move and used it to block that crawlspace Jonnie's passed out in. But of course he can't do that, because then Jonnie would lose.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, May 10, 2010

Part 14, Chapter 1 - Meanwhile...

Back at the main Psychlo mining compound, the fighting is finally over. Glencannon strafed and destroyed the base's ventilation cooling pumps, and since they were air-cooled, Earth's toxic atmosphere is pouring down into the subterranean complex. As the surviving Psychlos emerge with their hands up, the Scots break out the bagpipes.

A bodycount reveals that there were 976 aliens in the base, only thirty or so of which survived due to a shortage of gas masks. Among those alive are Ker, captured while crawling through an air vent, the Chamco brothers, who have signed on for C15,000 a year (with a C500 bonus for big jobs), Chirk the air-headed secretary, found hiding under Terl's bed, and the big bad Terl himself. There's a bit of tired and expected treachery from Terl when he tries to convince Sir Foxert the Rob that he has the keys to the gas drone and needs his boot, but Chirk speaks up about how Terl had her drop some keys into the "recycling trash bin" earlier. The Scots find a tiny blaster in a false sole, and Terl gets chained up in a well-lit area under constant guard.

Chrissie's out and about too, playing nurse with the parson. She's a bit of a celebrity.

...she did not realize that she had given the Scots an element called for in their romances. Everywhere she went, Scots, no matter what they were doing, rushed over to her, stared at her with glad eyes, and then rushed back to the work of getting the place handled. There was still a war on, but they could cheer and their pipes could skirl. And they could delight in the successful rescue of a fair maiden.

In other words, she's being a huge distraction. Also: geez. Fly across the Atlantic to save some bimbo with the personality of fresh cheese and the smarts of dryer lint. Are there no women in Scotland? Is this sort of sappy, moronic chivalry really all-pervasive in the Scottish psyche?

At least this illustrates that even supposedly positive stereotypes are obnoxious.

Anyway, Chrissie's flattered by all the attention but worried about her cold, aloof sweetheart. Her eyes meet those of Roxfob the Ert, who "felt very bad" and has a feeling Jonnie's in danger. Because psychic powers are contagious.

Robert the Fox gave his head a slight shake. Chrissie looked back at him steadily for a moment, swallowed hard, and then went back to work.

In case this somehow managed to elicit some suspense over Jonnie's well-being, don't worry, we'll get back to him in two chapters. If you're like me, you'll be happy to know that he's in terrible pain at the moment.

Back to Part Thirteen, Chapter Ten

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 10 - In Which Jonnie's Ability to Work a Wrench is a Crucial Plot Point

After firing that stream of bullets to ward off Zzt, Jonnie takes a moment for contemplation. The workers had to be able to service the drone somehow, he reasons, which means that he might be able to use his wrench to get into some vital component. He also realizes he's thinking sluggishly from the cold, and it turns out he is wearing a thousand-year-old flightsuit, but the batteries to keep it warm couldn't survive as long as the fabric of the uniform, which is of course eternal.

Then he has to fire a warning shot at some telltale movement near the drone's front. Zzt's still causing trouble. Jonnie wishes he had a grenade or something to flush the Psychlo out, since all the armored surfaces are making bullets ricochet around dangerously. At an impasse, he decides to worry about Zzt and Nup later and hurry and find a way to stop this gas drone.

Little does he know that he's observed by Zzt's little mirror the whole time. Dramatic musical sting!

Since he lacks the tool to cut the super-duper-invulnerable Psychlo metal, Jonnie decides to twist some nuts. He pops off a floor panel in front of his plane, removing eight nuts - I'm not sure why we need to know how many bolts he loosened to open this particular panel, but Hubbard thought it was worth mentioning, so I'm passing it along.

This reveals an engine housing the size of a one-story home (as opposed to the rude huts Jonnie grew up with). We're once again assured how humongous the gas drone is and that it's carrying "tons and tons" of toxic gas, but I'm still fuzzy on the dimensions. It's weird - Hubbard was able to tell us exact distances for things like the dogfight with Terl, but he hasn't taken the time to spell out the size of this bomber. Big enough to block a hangar door able to launch three fighters simultaneously, so... big? Forty feet wide? Sixty? Of course, this depends how big the freakin' Psychlo aircraft are, which of course has been left to our imagination, along with their appearance.

Jonnie realizes that he's looking at one of the drone's "space translation cubicles, mostly empty but served by an enormous number of points that jutted into them. Each point had its own coordinate message, and these points had to be cleaned." So there has to be a way to get to them. And sure enough, he finds a panel, held down by four twelve-inch nuts.

And so we reach the most tense and exciting part of this section, where Jonnie struggles to loosen four huge nuts while taking occasional potshots at Zzt to keep the Psychlo suppressed. It kinda helps if you remind yourself that the survival of mankind hinges on Jonnie being able to perform vehicle maintenance. But not really.

While working on Nut #3 Zzt starts yelling "If you monkey with those motors this thing will just crash!" Oddly enough, this doesn't deter Jonnie. And then our POV once more flips to Zzt, who is antsy for other reasons, too - he's noticing little sparks around him, particularly near the exhale valve on his "breathe-mask" and even little molecular flashes in his head (!!!). No big explosion yet, even though way back in Part 4, Chapter 9 Ker assured us that just "one isotope" of "radiation dust" is enough to cause a "spark-flash" that'd disrupt a teleportation platform.

Anyway, Zzt realizes that Jonnie might be throwing around radiation, so he tries reasoning with the man-thing.

"You've got a mask!" roared Zzt. "This kill-gas won't blow back in the drone. Just wait until it lands!" The stupid, filthy animal. Damn Terl!

"How about other people down there?" said Jonnie.

That shut Zzt up for the moment. He could not work out how something happening to somebody else had any bearing on what one would do for himself.

"Kill-gas." Really? Also, notice the subtle little "Psychlos have no sense of altruism" thing there. These aliens aren't evil in that their goals and philosophy clash with humanity's. Well, they do, but more than that the Psychlos are Eeeeeevil, mustache-twirling villains who pray to Evil Gods, spend their time blackmailing and murdering each other, and rule the galaxies as despotic overlords despite lacking the sort of social cohesion necessary for conquering Antarctica.

Anyway, Zzt freaks out some more as Jonnie fiddles with the motors, but the human is sure Zzt won't charge. The Psychlo doesn't. Instead, the next time Jonnie pops up from his work a fifty-pound floor plate ricochets off a skid strut like a cannonball and hits him in the back of the head.

The assault rifle flew from his clutching hand and went out into the dark. Holding somehow onto consciousness he fumbled for the revolver. There was nothing but darkness in front of his eyes.

Note that two paragraphs previously Jonnie "laid down the assault rifle and ducked" to work on a nut, but there it goes, tumbling from his hand. We don't need no stinkin' continuity.

Still, any chapter that ends with Jonnie being severely injured is a good chapter.

Back to Part Thirteen, Chapter Nine

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 9 - Vomit With Embarrassment

Jonnie backs away from the threat, towards his plane, chiding himself for not trusting his instincts earlier. Even though they're thousands of feet in the air flying at over three hundred miles per hour with the door open... and they haven't been sucked out yet... well, now that Jonnie's mask is off he can smell Psychlo.

Once again, we go to Zzt's point of view with nothing more than a new paragaph. The Psychlo is trying not to vomit, not from the pain of getting blasted, which at most bruised him (Jonnie forgot to set his gun to "penetration"), but from the realization that he'd been terrified of Terl's man-animal. Somehow getting shot helped Zzt recognize Jonnie for what he was. Zzt's ready to kill Jonnie just out of fury for making his so spooked, but first asks what he's doing on the drone.

After the Psychlo brings up a tractor, Jonnie recognizes Zzt. Jonnie admits that he's trying to sabotage the drone, and asks why Zzt's aboard, which elicits several minutes of Psychlo cursing that Hubbard leaves to our more inspired imaginations. Jonnie asks about blasting open the drone's control box or severing the cables, but a bored and once again nauseous Zzt (this time from the rolling drone) tiredly explains that it's too well-armored.

Then Jonnie remembers the wrench that was thrown at him. He scoops up the tool and straightens up just in time to see Zzt charge at him again. Jonnie's switched to his radiation-laced assault rifle by now and fires a burst at the Psychlo, but his aim is off (for once) and Zzt is not reduced to a green flash. The chapter ends with Zzt in cover, fumbling with a mirror to spot the animal with, readying a metal ruler as a new weapon to bash Jonnie's brains in.

Apparently using guile or promises of cooperation to get within melee range of Jonnie is just not an option. Gotta stick with hurling tools, that's the ticket.

Back to Chapter Eight

Monday, May 3, 2010

Part 13, Chapter 8 - Zzt Has Had It With These Mothercrunching Tolneps On This Mothercrunching Drone

Sadly, Jonnie can't remain unconscious forever, and he wakes up with a bruised knee, bleeding fingernails, and a gash on his forehead that's leaked blood into his eyes despite his mask. No mention of a helmet, of course. Still, Jonnie remembers "an ancient gag he had found on a cartoon card over at their base... 'A successful landing is one you can walk away from.'"

I wondering how Jonnie knows what a cartoon is. Is it a word that's lasted a thousand years despite his people's inability to produce visual media, or was it inexplicably included on one of the Chinko learning discs?

Our hero disembarks and starts exploring the vast gas drone, noting with dismay how heavily-armored the interior is, and that despite being only a third full it still has enough gas canisters to depopulate hundreds of thousands of square miles. Somehow. Checking closer, Jonnie learns that the toxin bombs date back from the initial invasion a thousand years ago, but were refilled twenty-five years later for what was surely a logical and sound reason.

Jonnie reaches the cockpit, covered in a thousand years of "crud" except for the little locked box were the coordinates were set. The box is armored, the cables leading into it are armored, and Jonnie has no key to unlock the thing. More than that, though, he's feeling "a vague feeling of unease" from the dark recesses of the drone.

And then immediately our POV is back with Zzt, without so much as an extra space between the paragraphs to set them apart. No division to separate the two different narratives, no new chapter for the Psychlo, just a sudden, jarring transition to another character.

Zzt's trying to remember everything he knows about Tolneps from his tour on Archiniabes, a binary star system allegedly in this universe (though Wikipedia or Google searches on it come up empty) that was annihilated by raiding Tolneps.

They had mastered time control and could hold it frozen and their ships made long piratical voyages.

Reading this sentence casts further doubt on the idea that this book was edited. Also, time control?! The Tolneps can "hold" time to make long interstellar voyages?! WHAT?!

This is huge. The Psychlos have an interdimensional empire built around their mastery of teleportation, but how can they defeat an enemy who can manipulate time itself? This changes everything. Suddenly the Psychlos have a real rival, and the humans have another huge threat to worry abo- oh. I just flipped ahead through a third of the book, when some Tolneps actually show up. They talk about coming out of "deep sleep," which suggests simple cryogenic hibernation instead of time travel. I guess either Zzt's being stupid here or Hubbard is.

False alarm.

Anyway, more about Tolneps:

What did he remember about them? What weaknesses? He could think only of strengths. Their bite was deadly poison. They had a body density comparable to iron. They were immune to Psychlo gas. They couldn't be killed with an ordinary blast gun.

But Tolneps have infared-only vision, and have to wear masks to compensate. Plus, they go blind from shortwave light, die from ultraviolet weapons (?!), and are "intensely allergic to cold." I guess they break out in rashes or something. Which is all good to know, I guess, since a Tolnep does show up later, but totally irrelevant now because Jonnie is not a Tolnep. Zzt is emboldened nonetheless, and draws his wrench, intending on hurling it and knocking the "Tolnep"'s mask off, praying "to the crap nebula" that he can sneak up on it.

I guess that confirms that the Psychlos have an unhealthy obsession with feces. And I guess if there's throwing clubs in this book using a wrench as a ranged weapon isn't much of a stretch.

Just as abruptly we're back to Jonnie's perspective as he wanders around, unsuccessfully trying to think of some way to damage or disrupt the bomber. He takes a moment to remove his mask to wipe some more blood from it, but it's knocked right out of his hands by a projectile, nearly breaking his thumb! With superb reflexes undiminished from his head injury, Jonnie draws his pistol and starts blasting away at a menacing shape advancing on him, driving it back into the shadows.

The chapter ends with Jonnie realizing that he is not alone on the drone.

The weird thing? Zzt was the one who sabotaged Jonnie's tractor demonstration all those chapters ago. He knows what a human looks like. He knows they can operate machinery. He's seen Jonnie in person. And yet he still misidentifies him as a Tolnep. I guess it's... better this way? Having Zzt throw a wrench at a "Tolnep" instead of trying to creep up and bash Jonnie's brains in?

Back to Chapter Seven