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

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