Monday, July 5, 2010

Part 18, Chapter 1 - Savages

After a flight memorable for how the Brigante prisoners stank up the passenger bay, Jonnie and friends and their prisoners land in the savages' base, containing two-and-a-half to three thousand of the mongrelfolk. Oh, and Bittie is there too, carrying "a blast rifle as tall as himself" and making himself useful by fussing over Jonnie's clothing so that the demigod is presentable. For his part, Jonnie has tried twice to convince Bittie to stay on the ship, but the little "squire" is determined to follow his "knight" into danger.

I know he's called "Sir" Robert, but other than that, has there been any indication that Scotland has knights? There wasn't a warrior caste, or mounted fighters, just a bunch of guys in skirts and bonnets and a few tribal chieftains. I guess Bittie just heard a bunch of old, old stories and decided to be a squire in a burst of youthful feudalistic tendencies.

The Brigantes turn out to be "worse than animals. Far worse." There's a suspicious absence of elderly townspeople, while the children are filthy, scabbed, pot-bellied, and obviously not taken care of. The population carelessly tramples a half-grown field of crops. When they need to relieve themselves, they stop whatever they're doing and let 'er rip. Bittie spots a male throw a woman down and start "fornicating right out in public," and looks away only to see "a man making a child do something unspeakable."

Men they passed gave them a funny salute with a raised finger. Ugly, contemptuous faces. Faces of all colors and mixed colors. And all dirty. Their clothing was a kind of joke of a uniform, and not worn with any style, just sloppy.

They seemed to speak some strange kind of English like they had oatmeal in their mouths. [...] these people didn't seem to care if the words even got out of their stinky mouths!

While Bittie is nauseous over the barbarism of these people, Jonnie finds one that speaks Psychlo and gets directions to find their leader, General Snith, a bloated man with the yellowish tinge of malaria to his skin. Snith chews out Arf for not bringing back his "stiffs," screaming "Howjer oxpect ter eat, den!" Yep, cannibals too. Bittie throws up after he discovers the haunch Snith chucked in his fury was a human arm.

Jonnie makes two discoveries in the Brigante village. There's one of those "definitely-not-magic-because-this-is-pure-sci-fi" language tutoring machines, which explains how the Brigantes and the Psychlos were able to communicate. Also, there's two other Scots hanging about, some of those "coordinators" sent by the world government to round up the scattered tribes into one convenient target in Colorado. As suspected, they're missing the third of their number, a man named Allison, who the Brigantes assured them probably fell into a croc-infested river or something and was most definitely not sold to the Psychlos.

Sir Robert theorizes that one of the cannibals heard Allison speaking Psychlo and singled him out so that the aliens could better interrogate him, which I guess implies that the Brigantes have come across enough people who speak Psychlo to learn that the aliens consider them priority targets. The coordinators don't really react to the news, and instead insist on following their orders to bring in the Brigantes. So Jonnie and Robert the Fox tie the two up and dump them in the plane. One of their pilots recommends dusting off and strafing the Brigantes from low altitude, just to be sure, and while the heroes are tempted, in the end they decide that some would probably escape into the trees, and then there'd be a "bloody feud" on their hands while they're dealing with those nearby Psychlos.

Their business with the Brigantes concluded, Jonnie 'n friends leave, and Bittie, for the chapter's hilarious stinger, looks back at the godforsaken barbarians and wonders aloud "how in all this rain can they be so dirty?"

This is a pretty important chapter, not because anything important happens in it, but because it's one of the reasons to read Battlefield Earth. These pages just reek of a sort of racism that'd fit in well with the Victorian-era imperial powers' view of those unpleasant yellow/brown/black/red fellows out in the colonies. Hubbard's presentation of this mixed-race African tribe is so vile and damning that it's quite refreshing after page after page of boredom and non-action scenes.

I have to wonder - why did the Brigantes have to be cannibalistic pedophiles with no bowel control? What does it add to the story? Does Hubbard really think the Brigantes are what would happen if some European mercenaries intermarried with African tribes over a thousand years, or does he think all Africans are like this but decided that making the Brigantes mixed-race would be more acceptable?

Couldn't there have been a tribe of humans with the positive qualities Hubbard slavishly assigns to the Scots, but who nonetheless cooperated with the Psychlos? I guess that'd be too much moral ambiguity. You either love Jonnie and support him unconditionally, or you're a filthy rapist who tosses granny to the wolves, a sub-human wretch worthy only of extermination. Or a Psychlo.

I'm having Iron Dream flashbacks...


Back to Part Seventeen, Chapter Eight

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