Thursday, July 15, 2010

Part 18, Chapter 9 - Things Somehow Manage to Get Dumber

But enough of a deluded Swede enduring the stench of an African cannibal "in the name of spreading the righteous creed of fascism and the great military leader, Hitler." Back to our heroes.

An underground room in the Lake Victoria base has been refitted with air conditioners to serve as a morgue, and Dr. MacKendrick, Angus, Sir Robert, Dunneldeen, and Jonnie are using the metal and mineral analysis machine to take a look into the skull of one of the dead Psychlos.

Massive, more than eighteen inches in diameter, the ugly head of the Psychlo corpse lay on the machine's plate. Such a head was mostly bone. It bore considerable resemblance to a human head and could be mistaken for one in bad light, but where a human had hair, eyebrows, fleshy lips, nose and ears, the Psychlo had bone whose shape was more of less the same as the corresponding human features, and the distribution and spacing was similar; the result was a kind of caricature of a human head. Until you touched the features, they did not seem to be bone, but contact proved them hard and unyielding.

So there you have it, the mystery of the "mouthbones" revealed. They really are solid bone that somehow stretches and warps like the supple lips of a human. What's more, according to this inelegant and badly-written paragraph, even a Psychlo's hair is bone. But otherwise they look like big bulky humans. Aside from the glowing eyes and asymmetrical fingers, and the fact that the entire top half of their skulls is solid bone, leaving their brains crammed down low next to their neck. Oh, and they explode around radiation.

This is just stupid. And what's more, Hubbard is finally giving us a good description of his aliens' faces five hundred and sixty-eight pages into this wretched story, after most of them have been killed.

After some thrilling "Angus fiddling with dials" action, the five named characters discover there is something bronze in the Psychlo's skull, which amuses Jonnie. " struck him as funny that an advanced technical race should be using ancient bronze in a skull." I guess he'd have been impressed if he'd found aluminum because ooh, shiny and high-tech!

The doctor manages to extract two half-circles wrapped around cord-like nerves. Along the way he notices some things about Psychlo biology and posits that their bodies aren't cellular, but viral. The Psychlos are walking clumps of super-dense viruses that somehow evolved into specialized organs and systems in utter violation of what it means to be a virus in the first place.

Since this is so jaw-droppingly at odds with biology both known and hypothetical, clearly the good doctor is an imbecile.

The imbecile plays with electricity and gets the cadaver to twitch for him and starts tagging nerves so he knows what each does. The others are a bit disturbed by this, so the imbecile starts chatting.

MacKendrick saw their reaction. "Nothing new in this. Just electrical impulses approximating brain commands. Some man-scientist did this maybe thirteen hundred years ago and thought he'd found the secret of all thought and made up a cult he called 'psychology.' Forgotten now. It wasn't the secret of thought; it was just the mechanics of bodies. They started with frogs. I'm cataloging this body's communications channels, that's all."

And here's your Scientology tie-in. I haven't really addressed the issue, at least not directly, because for the most part Hubbard had been keeping his cult's themes somewhat subdued. This is one of the few places they blatantly make an appearance, a sudden aside in which the author condemns a field of science before moving on to the next plot point. But there's more to come.

The imbecile MacKendrick does enough tests to theorize that the implant was installed at infancy on the intersection of nerves that handle taste, sexual impulses, emotion, and action, because that's totally how a neurological system works, with dedicated nerves for specific actions and thoughts. Anyway, the implant could have originally been designed to make Psychlos happy only if they were working, but all they really did was make the aliens enjoy cruelty, finding it as Terl put it "delicious."

In other words, these monstrous aliens are evil because someone did a botched attempt at mind-control. They're compelled to hurt others.

Jonnie and friends agree that the Pscyhlos are indeed complete monsters, and move on. This is their only reaction to the news that their enemies were essentially forced to be evil. There is no shock that they may have obliterated a race under mental compulsion, no remorse for waging war on slaves. There is no flicker of sympathy for the Psychlos. Instead, Jonnie gets the imbecile to bring up another head, since the current one belonged to a lowly miner, while a higher-ranking Psychlo might have different implants.

And whadya know, it does. They extract a cylinder that Jonnie is sure acts as a "thought wavelength vibrator," which sounds dirty. Such a device would cause impulses under the right stimuli, such as a desire to kill oneself after being questioned on a certain subject. Having made this discovery, the next step is to successfully extract such a mind-control unit from a living Psychlo, a task made difficult because there's no Psychlo medical books because apparently the aliens don't believe in hospitals, and just let the wounded die and get carted back to Psychlo.

After getting hit with hair-bones and the cult of psychology, I'm extremely grateful when the chapter ends. Then I look ahead and see more Brown Limper in my future, and my relief is short-lived.

Back to Part Eighteen, Chapter Eight

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