Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Part 22, Chapter 5 - Scotland Takes Over the World

So now Jonnie's in Castle Rock, Scotland to talk with the only people who matter, the local chieftains. Robert the Fox and the unnamed chief of Clanfearghus and a bunch of other B-list characters are in attendance for this important meeting.

First Foxy plays a video transmission intercepted by the radio telescope... huh, didn't know they could do that. But it's all the alien captains playing "klepp," basically a military boardgame, for the spoils of Earth. Their optimism in the face of repeated humiliating setbacks is astounding.

There's a motion to ban open communications, since Robert just proved how vulnerable it is to interception, but a chief points out that they can't pass laws because they aren't the America-based world government. Jonnie speaks up and points out that the Scots were the "original legislative body" in this conflict, and in the name of protecting the people of Earth, the American government should be ignored and overridden by the Scots. It's a Scotsman who controls the world's pilots, and a Scotsman in charge of the non-Brigante military, so Jonnie's proposal is mostly recognizing the reality of the situation.

The World Federation representative, Sir Andrew MacNulty, is of course okay with this.

They discussed it a bit and then so resolved to do it. Sir Andrew MacNulty was to carry out their wishes with the tribes, Sir Robert was to execute their directives in the military sector. And due to the peculiarities of the situation, orders from the American governing body were to be ignored without creating suspicion. The American body had supported enemies of Scotland, enemies with whom Scotland had a blood feud. The present emergency required emergency actions.

It was what Jonnie wanted.

A charismatic demagogue convinces people that the government can't be trusted and so invokes emergency powers to handle the situation. Ominous.

Jonnie then sums up the situation - Psychlo could counterattack at any minute, the other aliens are obviously up to something, and we need to take any measure to protect the remaining humans - and floats a plan by Sir Robert to gather people into fortified positions just ripe for an orbital strike. The council approves. Dr. Allen wants to instate some voluntary inoculation and vaccination due to illnesses like smallpox, which could spread now that humanity is going to be bunched up into juicy targets. That passes too. MacAdam of the Planetary Bank talks about how the American policy of throwing money at the Brigantes is leading to wild inflation, and proposes a special "Brown Limper Staffor, Senior Mayor Planet Earth" note to devaluate the currency. It passes, and everyone laughs that they would put Jonnie's picture on it, but nobody wants to see Tyler on devalued currency.

Stop. Smooching. Jonnie's. Arse.

In further financial news, MacAdam is ordered to move his bank from Zurich to the more defensible Luxemborg, which has some decaying castle ruins to lurk in. Then Jonnie guarantees funding for the war effort with the mineral wealth in untapped minesites. And that's about it for the meeting.

And now, at the very end of the chapter, is the fact that Jonnie is now in proximity to Chrissie, his one true love, acknowledged. They haven't seen each other for months, Jonnie's come close to death already and now is getting involved in another dangerous war for mankind's survival, and Chrissie's living near the new world capital, which will certainly be the aliens' main target if they learn it's location. This is a place for a poignant, romantic scene highlighting the strength of these characters' relationship, which is enduring in the face of overwhelming odds.

Unfortunately, our author is L. Ron Hubbard.

Chrissie greets him with tea and crumpets. Jonnie sits down in the living room and takes off his moccasins. Chrissie talks about how Aunt Ellen's cheeks are filling out and Jonnie compliments Chrissie for her beauty. Pattie is apparently doing better but is still disinterested in everything. Jonnie suggests Chrissie move the furniture to the house's basement, and Chrissie tells him not to worry.

It's a quaintly domestic situation that's entirely narrated, without a single line of dialogue. It's emotionless and robotic, like a diorama at Disneyworld. At least until Glencannon "gong"s at the door, making Jonnie shout and jump up to greet him.

Now I guess Jonnie could have had a passionate greeting for Chrissie, too. Except it never happens. On the first page of this chapter it's mentioned that Chrissie picked out a house near Castle Rock, and that Jonnie didn't talk en route to it, but his actual homecoming is missing. It's entirely possible that he landed in Scotland and went immediately to the council meeting. If that's the case, and what I just described was his reunion with Chrissie... well, then I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

Back to Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Four

Monday, August 30, 2010

Part 22, Chapter 4 - Ironically, There are Chinese Refugees in Tibet

Argh, this one's a full nine pages long.

It's the aftermath of the Tolnep raid, and Jonnie asks for a flight recording to explain to everyone what happened. But first it's time to talk to one of the alien prisoners.

The Tolnep is blind without his faceplate, since his species sees in a different "light band" than humans. Jonnie helpfully gives the alien his space glasses and gets snapped at for his trouble by those nasty Tolnep poison fangs.

Jonnie hunkered down and said, "We will now begin your narrative, the long sad story of your youth, how circumstances drove you to crime, and how that fateful trail led you to this pitiful ending."

Smartass. But the Tolnep's reaction of "You're mocking me!" proves that it understands Psychlo, so the interrogation continues. Jonnie's threat to drop the Tolenp off a mountain is sneered at ("Wouldn't even dent me!"), so instead Jonnie offers to return the captive to his ship. The Tolnep freaks out and rants about Psychlo sadism, since obviously he'd be sprinkled with "virus powder" to infect his crew, who would know this and blast him out of space to burn up in the atmosphere.

So offering to send the prisoner home gets him to spill his guts. Double-Ensign Slitheter Pliss explains his commander's plan to sell some slaves, points the way towards Tolnep, and agrees to bite a rag to drain his venom, which takes six days or so to refill. Jonnie sends the sample off to MacKendrick the not-a-real-doctor to make some antivenom with.

That done, Jonnie's off to talk to the crowd of Himalayan dignitaries and well-wishers, who as one kowtow to Jonnie out of shame for their disrupted welcome. Even Jonnie is disgusted by the display and orders them to get up. Then it's time for another round of bit characters, Norgay the chief of the Sherpas, Chief Monk Ananda of the Tibetan Buddhists... wait. Despite the near-extinction of humanity, an order that takes vows of chastity has attracted enough new members to survive for a thousand years? Oh, and there's Chief Chong-won representing all four hundred and fifty remaining Chinese.

All of these people were starving because of how hard it is to grow food up in the cold highlands. This implies that a) they have forgotten the agricultural techniques that let their ancestors survive in the region since antiquity and b) some Psychlos have evidently taken time from stripping the Earth of resources to go all the way up to a plateau at the top of the world just to keep some peasants from planting a garden.

There's a demonstration when a bunch of saffron-robed monks start chanting in Chinko-accented Psychlo. Nobody else in the world spoke Pali, so someone found one of those magical teaching machines and introduced the monks to Psychlo. Apparently the peaceful teachings of the Buddha are fully expressible in the amoral Psychlo language.

Jonnie orders some pilots from Dunneldeen ("You didn't know I had fifteen daughters. It's quite urgent they wed."), and at a reception with food and speeches Jonnie makes a shocking offer to assist in the war against the Psychlos and other aliens. His audience is spellbound.

These beaten people, these ragged, starved remnants of one-great nations had not really dreamed they could be of value. That they could assist. That they might have a role to play besides to hide and starve. It was a mind-shattering thought. To help.

Again, it's not clear why everyone's starving beyond some vague mention of Psychlo oppression. If we were ever told how many Psychlos there were on Earth and where they were located, it'd be interesting to calculate how far they'd have to roam to keep all these scattered tribes from successfully hunting deer or picking berries. While still taking time to work in the mines and backstab each other in office politics.

Anyway, Jonnie offers the Tibetans a safe home in the Russian bunker base in return for their service as communications officers. Instead of making up awkward code phrases on the fly, radio transmissions will be done in Pali. Meanwhile the Sherpas will help the Russians stock their base with food, while Jonnie offers to send the Chinese someplace warm with lots of big game - Africa. They don't care about the details, so long as they're going someplace hot. I guess they still haven't acclimated even after a millennium in the Himalayas. And that's about it.

Next chapter, Jonnie plans a coup.

Back to Chapter Three

Friday, August 27, 2010

Part 22, Chapter 3 - Earmuffs Save the Day

Now we're back with Half-Captain Rogodeter Snowl of the Tolnep Elite Space Navy (I guess they have more than one navy), who has been monitoring radio messages. Yes, he has "vocodor" circuits "from ages back" to translate English for him. No, we're not told why he has English to Tolnep translation software, or how such a device was made, or why such a device was made, or if he brought along electronic dictionaries for any of Earth's hundreds of other near-dead languages. Who knows, he might be crazy-prepared like that.

Anyway, half-Capt. Snowl learns that a V.I.P. is due to appear at a place called Lhasa, and hatches a half-baked plan. He tells the other aliens that someone really ought to be guarding the far side of the planet, moves into orbit over Tibet, and targets this unknown person of importance for kidnapping and interrogation. He'll get some information, use the V.I.P. to force a planetary surrender, and sell everyone off to pay his gambling debts and retire.

To do this he sends three of his men.

Cut to Jonnie gawking at the Himalayas as he's flown to Lhasa. Then he gawks at the chrome-plated AK-47 he was given last chapter which I missed because I was dwelling on the stupid helmet. Then he gawks at the marvelous ruins of Lhasa. Then there's the requisite mob of two hundred or so Jonnie fanboys at the landing zone... but somethings amiss...

The crowd's just standing, motionless, "like people with a gun trained on them." Instincts make Jonnie look around, just in time to see three figures running at him.

They were gray. There [sic] were about the size of men. They wore big faceplates.


Well, it's time for another Battlefield Earth action sequence. Jonnie fires his blinged-up '47, but its "slugs" have no effect. Then he remembers from reading his manual on alien races that Tolneps are half-blind without their faceplates, so he drops to a knee, switches to single-fire, and starts making headshots. In an odd case of things not going entirely his way, he isn't fast enough.

It had taken too long.

The leading one was almost upon him.



No time to fire.

So the oncoming alien gets a rifle butt to the face, followed up by "a slash of the barrel" that knocks the alien aside. Jonnie leaps out of range of the alien's poison fangs... which are a threat through the faceplate? ...then shoots the Tolnep point-blank with his blast-gun, cracking the faceplate and knocking the alien out.

Of the other two aliens, one is blundering into the ruins blindly, while the other is trying to make its way back towards his tiny, diamond-shaped launch. Jonnie gets his blast rifle from his ship, sets it to "Flame" and "Maximum" after his first shot has no effect, and explodes the fleeing Tolnep into "a pillar of fire." Then with an amazing shot Jonnie blows up the other's weapon.

After that it's just a matter of tying up the survivor, marveling at its super-dense, ironlike "flesh," and noticing that the crowd has yet to react to any of this. Jonnie, of course, is more interested in the Tolnep ship than whatever's up with the crowd. While inspecting the alien vessel, he notices that one of its cannons is "more than a cannon," with "two barrels, one over the other." When he gets in front of this cannon+ he feels a strange lethargy, so he yanks out a cable to shut it off. The crowd immediately collapses.

Nobody remembers the battle, the tribal leaders bow and scrape over having "lost face" due to Jonnie's landing ceremony being ruined, and for all everyone knows it's nine in the morning instead of two in the afternoon.

So why wasn't Jonnie affected? His stupid helmet, of course! It had extra-thick ear protectors to help deal with engine noise, making it proof against the sonic attack the Tolneps use to stun targets during slave raids. What a happy coincidence!

Then there's an amusing section where Jonnie sends a radio message to Robert the Fox while making up code on the fly. "The little birds tried to sing here." "...our friend Ivan in his new hole must have a ceiling." "Have our own band play 'Swenson's Lament.'" Which Foxy is able to translate as "just attacked by three aliens," "Colonel Ivan needs air cover," and "maintain radio silence" because there's no such song as "Swenson's Lament." Clever, clever.

So let's see... Bolbods trying to sabotage a dam: three soldiers. Hockers trying to eliminate a radio telescope: five soldiers. Tolneps trying to kidnap the most important (gag) person on the planet: three soldiers, and for good measure this attempt was made after seeing the spectacular failures of the aforementioned missions.

Not really what you're expecting when you see Battlefield in the title. I think it picks up later, though, so we may see as many as a dozen aliens on the planet at the same time.

Back to Chapter Two

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Part 22, Chapter 2 - Nice Hat

But where's Jonnie during all this? Surely there can't be any kicking of alien butt without the book's unstoppable, bland hero?

He's in Russia. Jonnie navigated by "a pattern of lakes and rivers" from two hundred thousand feet, which sounds almost implausible to me, but I'm not a pilot. He is of course mobbed by five hundred rabid fans after landing, then meets Colonel Ivan, who is wearing a black band on his arm in honor of the fallen Bittie. No mention of that Russian guy who also died that day.

All the onlookers (including some South American ranchers and Mongol drummers) are in their best clothes because it's another Jonnie-based holiday, and despite Jonnie's pleas to get on with business since they're being invaded and all, he's roped into his formal moccasins for the occasion. Oh, and a gold helmet some Siberians made for him. It's actually armored aluminum plated with berylium, which I'm sure is an important detail.

And then Jonnie meets a character he's known and been friends with for years but who hasn't appeared in the book before now: Tom Smiley Townsen, who proves that Jonnie has no monopoly on embarrassing middle names. Smiley just graduated from machine school, and will soon be married to a South American girl named Margarita. She doesn't speak English, but fortunately Smiley has picked up Spanish. Hmmm.

Jonnie drinks vodka that "almost took the top off Jonnie's head," he mingles with some German pilots, Colonel Ivan leads him to a hill to point to the southeast where a distant tomb houses the remains of the great warlord Timur i Leng, Jonnie remembers Napoleon and Hitler and privately wonders "if such vermin had not been so intent on personally ruling the world---man might have had the cultural advancement to repel the Psychlo invasion."

Cultural advancement? The Psychlos might have stayed their furry hands if they'd seen our arts? My guess is that he's referring to a world government, which would (at best) have the same weaponry available that didn't stop the Psychlos.

Aaaaand then there's Sir Andrew MacNulty, "the head of the Federation and chief of all the coordinators" who we haven't seen before and who will probably play no large role in the rest of the plot, and then there's a series of fireside dances from the various tribes, and I'm actually looking forward to the next round of the aliens' attempts to invade this rock.

The next day Jonnie tours the local underground base, which features working flamethrowers and AK-47s (but not AK-74s, which would have been out for nearly a decade at the time of this book's printing), nukes, the decayed heaps of "MIGS" (but not MiGs), and a portrait of a "former tsar named Lenin" who was possibly a contemporary of Timur i Leng. The base personnel describe their plans to figure out the nuclear manuals and harvest wheat and mine coal. Why are we being told this?

And the day after that Jonnie's off to inspect a base in Tibet, stupid golden helmet and all.

Let me give this chapter credit: it really heightens interest in the alien invasion. I'm desperate to get back to the alien invasion. Even if the aliens are incompetent pushovers, it's still better than reading about Jonnie touring military bases.

Random fact for the chapter: a Siberian tribe, descended from a bunch of former political prisoners who "spent most of their time starving to death," migrated to the base with their dogs, presumably sled-pulling animals. They wear polar bear furs.

Another random fact: Colonel Ivan has no dialogue. Instead his interactions with Jonnie are narrated. As in "Jonnie washed his face and got dressed and told the colonel he was a bully and the colonel confessed he was far worse than that."

Back to Chapter One

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Part 22, Chapter 1 - Invasion (of Failure)

And now our POV is up in the sky looking down, as the Gray Man monitors the actions of his fellow aliens. He's no longer feeling urpy thanks to revisiting the old woman who gave him tea during his first trip to Earth. She gave him some buttermilk and peppermint this time, and the Gray Man was so grateful he traded her his translator microphone as compensation.

Just in case you were lying awake at night, wondering if the Gray Man would ever conquer his indigestion.

The Bolbods have dispatched a cylindrical "Punchcraft" to make a raid near the dam (I guess they noticed Jonnie's mob poking around the second teleportation platform), and a crew disembarks to set demolition charges. But before they can reach anything important, there's a huge explosion, killing one Bolbod when his charges go off, and knocking the other two unconscious. Then from nowhere a "marine-attack plane" swoops in to disgorge a bunch of Swedes (the Gray Man can tell, since they're blonde) led by a kilted Scot. They chain up the two surviving Bolbods, load them onto the plane with forklifts, and off it goes.

Almost simultaneously a Hockner probe that's "little more than a sled and was jet-powered" lands on Mount Elgon, its five passengers planning to disable the radio telescope. It takes them long enough to overcome the winds and icy peak for the observing alien captains' attention to begin to wander. The Tolnep runs the numbers and concludes that if he sold Earth's population for a thousand a head, he could make nearly three million credits, pay off his gambling debts, and retire. The Hawvin is coveting all the leftover silver and copper coins...

Oh, guess what? The avaricious, money-grubbing, metal-hungry Psychlos don't value silver or copper. They just ignored the other precious metals while they scraped for every ounce of gold. Come on. Sixteen universes and the Psychlos couldn't find a market for the stuff? At least copper is useful.

Argh. Anyway, the Bolbod was hankering to get his hands on the old Psychlo machinery but is now filled with thoughts of vengeance for his captured crew, and a new alien is thinking of ways to swindle the others out of Earth's treasure.

The Hockners eventually manage to land at the peak, having trouble just moving in their bulky and needlessly-fancy space suits. Then a battle plane flies up over a glacier, while at the same time a bunch of humans in red-and-white high-altitude suits emerge from hiding beyond the telescope and open fire, downing four aliens with stun blasts and knocking a fifth off a cliff. Yes, they managed to hide from multiple orbital viewers while wearing partially-red uniforms. They load up the Hockner prisoners onto the plane.

The Tolnep half-captain concludes that the radio telescope was a dummy designed to lure attackers in, since everyone uses "infrabeams" nowadays, including backwards indigenous races who nobody knows anything about. But seconds later the aliens receive a transmission from a "gray black-haired and bearded" human who wants to discuss the six prisoners they now have.

The aliens aren't fooled - clearly these humans have been subjugated by the Psychlos, who are either going to torture the prisoners to death or have already killed them. They refuse to receive the prisoners. When the human asks what to feed their new captives, the Tolnep smiles and sends a "food package" down, which in actuality is a bomb. But once it lands, the package is met with a Basher tank, which shoots and detonates the payload. I'm sure later it'll be explained how the humans knew the package was a trap.

So the initial, pitiful alien incursions have been spectacular failures, and the coalition of commanders are thoroughly spooked. They decide to sit tight until the Gray Man's courier arrives with news of whehter or not Earth is the one, and if it isn't, they'll launch an all-out attack which I'm sure will be a huge success.

Earlier I wondered how the Psychlos could possibly be the most dangerous race in the universes. Now we all know why.

Please extend a warm welcome to the newest member of the League of Ineffectual Alien Invaders, the Jambitchow, a name that sounds like a stupid white man's thoroughly offensive attempt at coming up with an Southeast Asian word. The race's representative is described with "glittering gold scales and eyes where his mouth ought to be." From this we can gather that facial features are somewhat standardized across the myriad universes, which would in better works be a central plot point or great mystery to solve, but here is more indicative of the author's limitations.

Back to Part Twenty-One, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 7 - Some Kind of Force Field

The heroes - or rather Angus working with some German and Swedish pilots, who are of course all skilled craftsmen - install a radio telescope on top of Mount Elgon so they can listen to everything those "monkeys" in orbit are saying to each other. Meanwhile Glencannon ferries over some more discs of Terl, as well as news from Scotland: Pattie's gone ill but is being cared for by Crissie, who has picked out an (intact) house near Castle Rock and filled it with (intact) furniture from the ruins. She sends her love to Jonnie, who as usual has no reaction.

Instead Jonnie starts watching the recordings of Terl at work. The Psychlo opens another false cabinet bottom to get out a map for "Defense Installations of Planet Number 203,534," or Earth. The map indicates that there's an "Emergency Defense Armament Receipt Point" near the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe, a staging point for a counter-strike in the event that the main outpost on the planet fell. So off Jonnie and friends go to secure the area, but it's deserted except for a bunch of buffalo and elephants, and the platform itself is overgrown and neglected.

After a bit of work hacking away at the jungle and digging trenches, they find transhipment poles and the buried power lines leading to the dam, where there's a control room. The humans monkey around with the buttons and cause a fireball that shreds trees and bangs up the poor Scot spotters. It's actually a forcefield that surrounds the dam and teleportation platform. Jonnie throws rocks at it.

Why didn't the Colorado minesite have this shield? Oh yeah, it would have kept Jonnie from running onto the platform and priming those bombs.

So they booby-trap the place and go home. I'm not sure where "home" is - certainly not America, and probably not Africa, so I'm guessing Scotland. Everybody's optimistic now that there's hope of figuring out teleportation, which will solve all their problems. The "lesser menace" of Brown Limper's regime can wait - the main issue now is protecting the remnants of humanity from those orbiting aliens or a Psychlo counterattack.

Terl and his bomb are not mentioned.

You know, I just realized - you can only have one teleportation going at a time on a planet, right? Because otherwise there's interference and the shipments try to pass through each other. Which is why there are only very slight, very specific windows for teleporting to and from Psychlo.

So how in the world is the Psychlo military supposed to swoop in and launch a counter-invasion if there's a constant stream of ore shipments coming in from mining colonies? Heck, how are they supposed to receive word of the loss of Earth before the scheduled firing? And for that matter, how are the mining colonies able to survive for an entire year when there's no mention of a mountain of supplies coming along with the new workers, especially if the Psychlos need a special air supply and can't eat the local food?

The plot was already contrived and stupid, but now it's contrived, stupid, and contradictory. I just wish I'd caught this two chapters ago.

Back to Part Twenty-One, Chapter Six

Monday, August 23, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 6 - She Was Doing Well Until She Tried to Think

Last chapter our heroes deduced that the conniving and murderous Terl was building some sort of deadly bomb. Now?

Since Terl seemed to be working on other things than teleportation, which was the key to this entire dilemma, Jonnie, for the time being, turned his attention to other things.

Ho ho, that rascal Terl, trying to kill us all! Up to his old tricks again, is he? Ah well, let's go to Africa.

Jonnie still wants to see if it's possible to rehabilitate Psychlos by removing those mind-control units in their skulls, not out of any sense of goodwill of course, but to see if he can get an engineer to cooperate with him to help figure out teleportation. But Dr. "Psychlos are giant viruses" MacKendrick has bad news from Africa: the three remaining alien patients have come down with malaria and are deathly ill. Though the thirty-three Psychlos from America have now been "lost at sea in a plane crash" and relocated to Africa, MacKendrick is still pessimistic about the viability of the operation. You can't get to the implants without going through "critical skull bone joints" and nerve bundles, apparently.

But then Jonnie is visited by Chirk the secretary, who he has nothing against but is willing to terrify into hysterics. Chirk thanks him for rescuing the remaining Psychlos (y'know, after Jonnie helped kill all the others) from Terl's murderous impulses. Jonnie belatedly notices how forlorn and underdressed she is, though in a clinical, detached way. He certainly feels no sympathy for Chirk, or remorse for having helped put her in such a situation. Instead he is amazed that a Psychlo is being thankful and appreciative.

Lightbulb. They put Chirk's vacant noggin' under one of those mineral scanners and discover a silver capsule quite unlike the bronze doodads in the other Psychlos' skulls. In fact all twelve female aliens from Colorado have the silver implants. So the quack doctor runs an autopsy on the three dead females from Africa and discovers a device with "a less complex internal filament," but an unknown function. But since female Psychlos seem to lack the "bronze cruelty factor" found in males, Jonnie offers Chirk a job.

What follows is three or four paragraphs describing Chirk's makeover. She takes a bath in the lake "oblivious of crocodiles," seizes enough fabric to make a dress, and mixes some minerals and chemicals to create makeup, and even creates some leather boots out of an old seat covering. The end result involves "brilliant green lipbones, a glaring white nosebone, and white and green circles around her eyebones," with purple nail polish for her talons to complete the ensemble.

When Chirk meets with the other captive females, soon after the humans are bombarded with job applications and demands for clothes. And then Chirk spends nearly a page going out to gather mud. Not for more cosmetics though, but to mix with some squishy Psychlo chow to make a "counter-virus" for her sick kin. And after that Chirk organizes Jonnie's library, revealing two books: War Vessel Recognition Tables of Hostile Races and Individiual Troop Combat Capabilities Catalogued by Alien Races. Soon Jonnie has figured out that he's got Tolneps, Hockners, Bolbods and Hawvins hanging overhead.

But then Chirk's streak of usefulness comes to an end when Jonnie, trying to crunch the numbers to figure out how many months the invaders are from their respective bases, asks Chirk for help with math. She freezes up for a minute, says she doesn't know how, and goes into a coma. She's taken to her room via forklift, the eight hundred pound fattie.

Jonnie theorizes that the silver capsules were there to keep Psychlo females from learning mathematics. Noooooo, really?!

Random fact for this chapter, provided by Chirk: Psychlo males don't "mass hunt." Instead "the silly things find just one animal and follow it and then they sit around in a circle and take three days to kill it little by little." I can't help but feel impressed that they don't get bored after six or seven hours of shooting the same thing.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, August 20, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 5 - Terl Builds a Bomb

Back to Africa, where Jonnie and friends are studying tens' worth of recordings of Terl at work. The surveillance system is working as planned - Terl found all the false bugs but not the shuttered ones, so there's extensive footage and stills of him going through thousands of pages of a massive 2' x 3', seven-inch thick book he got out of a false bottom to one of his drawers. It's all data about systems and planets, with forty columns covering their motion, "weight," atmosphere, demographics, mineral content and value, minesites, etc.

All speeds and directions of travel were based on the zero center of the universe and three-dimensional compass coordinates, using the inevitable Psychlo numeral eleven, and parts of eleven and powers of eleven.

Yeah, about that "center of the universe" thing...

Now the humans have data and coordinates for "thousands and thousands and thousands" of worlds across sixteen universes, all from a cumbersome seven-inch thick book. If only there was some way to store information electronically, and easily peruse it with some sort of machine. An engine designed for computation, if you will.

But that's not all that's on the tapes. They see Terl crunching some numbers and getting quite upset when planning his teleportation home. You can't teleport two different shipments to the same destination at the same time, you know, nor can you have two teleporters going on the same world without interference. As a result Psychlo has its teleportation schedule quite rigidly planned out, and has stuck to this table for "decades." All this means that the next window Terl has for going home is on Day 92. In other words, the regularly scheduled firing from Earth.

Terl almost breaks his pen after realizing this. Why was he surprised? He's been on Earth for a while and knows that's when there's an opening.

Anyway, after that Terl opens up a false back to a cabinet, retrieves a pair of tongs "big enough to lift a huge boulder," and uses it to haul out a pea-sized something that dents the floor when he fumbles it. Jonnie does some mental math and estimates that the tiny little orb must weigh seventy-five pounds to burden the mighty Terl so. This is where I'm tempted to brag about what I'm lifting during my daily gym visits.

The humans pull up a mineral analyzer and take scans from the surveillance footage, which I spend a minute or two boggling at. But the tests are inconclusive, nor is this weird super-dense, super-heavy pea in any Psychlo periodic tables. After taking half a page to explain atomic theory to Dunneldeen (to little effect: "I fell in the mine shaft about two hours ago and haven't been heard of since!"), Jonnie concludes that this mystery element is being purposefully kept secret, but most certainly isn't part of a transhipment rig.

They watch more footage as Terl assembles a pretty, hexagonal box with an array of rods inside of it made out of minerals common in Earth's crust and core. He laughs several times while assembling it, so we know a bomb. It takes Jonnie a bit to realize that that mysterious pea must do something to "stimulate" atoms into a reaction of some sort.

"Now I know who made Satan," said Dunneldeen. "His name was Terl."

God created the heavens and earth, God created the heavenly host, Lucifer is a fallen member of that heavenly host, so by Dunneldeen's logic, Terl is God.

Come on, L. Ron, you can't expect us to believe Terl is some sort of devilish supervillain just because the characters keep saying he is. His actions have to make him a menace, not his undeserved reputation. And remember Terl's shrieking fits, or how he made incriminating statements to corpses, or spent chapter after chapter worrying about a red herring, or when he almost killed the animal his plan hinged upon through negligence, or...

Random fact: Jonnie remembers that planet Psychlo is "only" about twenty-five thousand miles in diameter. In comparison, Earth is about eight thousand miles wide, while Jupiter is over eighty-eight thousand miles wide. But back in Part 20, Chapter 2 we learned that Psychlo's molten planetary core was just over eighty-three miles beneath its surface. If I've done the numbers right, this means that planet Psychlo is over 99% superheated, molten core.

Wow. Either I suck at math or that is one messed-up planet.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 4 - Xenos

Not one, not two, but three new alien races to not give a rat-animal's posterior about!

The Grey Man, who I am tempted to refer to as the G-Man but will not, is now dealing with four faces on his viewscreens, and his indigestion is acting up from these military men's infighting. The Tolnep half-captain and the Hawvin are bickering over whether or not their races are at war, and ask His Excellency the Grey Man if he knows if they are (he doesn't).

While the Hawvin is interested in if the exchange really dented the Tolnep ship's plating, the Hockner super-lieutenant is more concerned about the ship that just flew up and then fled from them. Gang Leader Poundon, the Bolbod commander, thinks it was just a Psychlo scout, but the Hockner's copy of Known Types of Psychlo War Craft has nothing that matches the ship's profile.

The military captains all confer and decide that the Psychlo ship was hoping to mop up the survivors of the battle, and all boast about how they could've "eaten that one with one bite" (the Hawvin) or "knocked it out with one punch" (the Bolbod). Concluding that if the Psychlos had a larger force they would've used it by now, the Bolbod floats the idea of combining their arms and stomping their Earth-based enemies - even though individually they haven't had much luck against the Psychlos, the ones here seem weak and vulnerable.

But then the Grey Man asks: what if this world is the one? That gives them pause, enough so that they decide to stay their hand until The Grey Man's courier ship returns. If the world isn't the one, it gets flattened and looted. If it is, they'll do something else.

So there you have it, another "suspenseful" deadline hanging over everyone, in addition to Terl's doomsday weapon and the nonexistent threat of Psychlo retaliation. Man, it's just one heart-pounding development after another in Battlefield Earth.

Now about these aliens: the captains' teleconference has brief descriptions of the participants, which I'll break down in bullet points instead of scattering over my summary.

  • Tolnep - Wears glasses. From Chapter 1 we also know he has a "hard face" and a "shield helmet." That's it. Basically a human, since Jonnie was mistaken for one earlier. How creative.
  • Hawvin - Square helmet on oval head, "ear antennae" that are squashed by said helmet, making it an impractical and stupid design ill-suited for the race that presumably made it. Face turns light violet when provoked. Mouth is "untoothed but blade-gummed," and I have no idea what that means. It's as incomprehensible as "sharp-jellied." Perhaps it has a beak?
  • Bolbod - "Just plain plug-ugly," a "sort of shapeless" form larger than Psychlos whose hands are permanently clenched into fists. Viewed by other aliens as stupid brutes, and view other aliens as "effete degenerates." Military uniform is a sweater that nearly meets their oversized caps, but eschews rank insignia.
  • Hockner - A "long, noseless face" that looks with disdain on anyone not from the Duraleb System. Wears excessive gold braid and, I kid you not, a monocle. Calls the Bolbod "old fellow" and presumably speaks with an English accent.

I'd just like to remind everybody that Star Wars came out in 1977, five years before this book was published. Just compare your mental pictures of Hubbard's aliens with the background characters in the cantina scene. Maybe these are intentionally low-budget alien designs that are supposed to evoke the old, crappy aliens from Ye Olde Sci-Fie Flickse?

Fun fact #1: everyone's speaking Psychlo as sort of a lingua franca. I guess that's more plausible than the old Universal Translator.

Fun fact #2: the Grey Man's indigestion pills are called Mello-gest.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 3 - Insomnia and Space Travel

Aaaaand we're back in Africa.

Sir Robert is in Scotland organizing air defense, Colonel Ivan is in Russia.... doing something, and Jonnie's in Africa having trouble sleeping, what with the hot and sticky weather, and all the planning he has to do, and the residual guilt over Bittie, etc.

When he isn't tossing and turning in bed, Jonnie's been studying the base. He concludes that since it isn't much of a mining outpost, it's primary purpose was to house and launch a counterattack in the event the Denver base was captured. Instead of, you know, launching a counterstrike to stop the Denver base from being captured. But I guess you'd have to respond to a distress signal to do that. It's not like suddenly losing contact with the planetary headquarters is reason for alarm, or that launching a swift and timely attack might catch your enemies flat-footed instead of giving them weeks to dig in and regroup.

Besides some military hardware, the African base has a few vessels designed to "mine out" some valuable material in orbit over Earth, something the Psychlos rarely encountered. That's right: satellites. The Psychlos were so desperate for metals that they cleaned up all our space junk.

The fact that this is "a circumstance unusual in Psychlo experience" is a little strange. The good interpretation is that most planets the Psychlos mine out are either uninhabited or home to pre-industrialized natives. The bad interpretation is that humanity is one of the few species in the universe(s) to use satellites to their advantage, which means that the rest of those aliens are all the more dumb. Or magical, if they've got technology that allows them to circumvent that aspect of space exploration.

Anyway, there's a small collection of formerly-orbiting objects, one of which bears the mysterious name of "NASA." The space miners that collected them were just left to rot in the intervening centuries. There's another lazy nod at reality when Jonnie notes that the door gaskets have deteriorated because "you can't expect a gasket to last for eleven hundred years and still be airtight," instead of expressing amazement that the door has lasted eleven hundred years. It actually makes me paranoid - is it me? Am I the one with the warped sense of longevity? Is metal supposed to last a millennium without the sort of meticulous preservation and care from a museum?

Stormalong's chilling out too, and has fixed up one of the Psychlo orbital-collector thingies into working condition, even adding guns and stuff. He proposes going up and visiting the four UFOs they've noticed in orbit for days now:

One was a big craft with a diamond-shaped bridge and a lot of blast-gun snouts. One was a cylinder with a control deck in the front, flat end. One was a thing which looked like a five-pointed star with a sort of gun on every star point. And the fourth was a sphere with a ring around it.

Jonnie strongly advises against going up for a "visit." Later, after a sleepless night, Jonnie gets a hankering for "some cool air and a look at stars." So he goes down to the "old relic" Stormalong refitted and takes it up two hundred miles to gawk at the alien ships. He arrives in time to see a fifth vessel show up and exchange fire with one of the other four starships. Jonnie zooms closer at hypersonic speed, intent on getting a good reading even though he can spot all five ships visually. When he realizes how big they're getting in his screens he notices he's just seventy-five miles distant, and hurriedly breaks off and runs for home.

From this we can conclude that either these are some ginormous spaceships, Jonnie's ship has a truly impressive zoom feature, or Hubbard, like many sci-fi authors, has no sense of scale.

And yes, our hero does realize he's just done what he warned Stormalong not to do, and chastises himself for it. Then Stormalong flies up in another ship and radios Jonnie "Don't shoot! I'll marry your daughter!", making Jonnie laugh. Then they go back to the minesite as I try to figure out what was funny about "Stormy"'s statement, whether it was a threat or a plea or what.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 2 - Who'd Hide Cameras in an Air Vent, Anyway?

Enough of the boring gray alien, let's get back to the stupid bony alien.

Terl's actually purring from the thought of moving into his old office, even though the whole compound is still reeling from Jonnie's systematic annihilation of a commando unit. There was dissent amongst the Brigantes until General Snith found a way to divvy up those delicious corpses - twenty-eight total, which makes my estimate for Jonnie's kill count a bit conservative. Then there was a booby trap Lars found in the door to Terl's room.

There were gray Psychlo wrist hairs left near it, which rules out Ker since he's orange-furred. Since it obviously wasn't Jonnie (which perplexes Terl, as Jonnie has on three occasions now failed to kill him), Terl realizes one or more of the Psychlo prisoners are to blame. He demands his fellow aliens be executed, but Lars tells him they've all been relocated overseas.

So Terl goes into his old office, notices his desk has been welded down to a certain spot, and realizes the place must be bugged. So he goes around until he's found thirty-two "micro-micro-phones, button cameras, scanners" and other surveillance devices. He almost checks the air ducts manually, but when he notices how wobbly it is he decides it's not worth the effort. Paranoid up to a point, I guess.

For good measure Terl tracks down and neutralizes the relays and recorders for all those bugs, then he spends a full hour enjoying some kerbango and fantasizing about returning to wealth and power on the Psychlo homeworld, and setting a trap for Jonnie.

But first things first. He had better calculate how much time he had to get this job done. And then start on the construction of a weapon so lethal and deadly that the company never used it except in the extreme emergency of planet destruction. After he fired, this place would be just a smudge in the sky.

If the gas drone don't work, go with the Earth-shattering kaboom. Wonder why he didn't use this as his first option? It'd silence his henchmen and cover his tracks on Earth in one fell swoop, and he could blame the detonation on the Tolneps or something. Terl is pretty lazy though, and he wouldn't have had to build the gas drone himself.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, August 16, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 1 - The One?

Now we're four hundred and twenty-one miles over Earth in the spaceship Ankar II, in which the small gray man is sitting in a small gray office looking at small gray instruments, downing indigestion pills as he ponders his predicament.

He had faced many situations in his long life, a large number of them involving the most dangerous and overwhelming elements. But at no time---he did a hasty calculation with a rolling calculator---in 313,000 years had he or his predecessors ever been confronted with the ruin potential of this one.

Besides traveling the globe speaking with people, The Gray Man has been monitoring events through an "infrabeam sound transmitter," which apparently does visuals too since he has a video of Jonnie gunning down the Brigantes at the compound. He thinks he's identified the guy from the bank note he acquired from a native, and also listened in on the meeting in Scotland so he knows there's a war on. But the transmissions weren't perfect, so he's left wondering just what's going on, and why the death of a boy ("A prince of a reigning sovereign?") was enough to cause all this. You and me both, man.

But then The Grey Man is distracted when his sensors detect a Tolnep warship... uh, that's it. It's not so much approaching or coming out of Warp or anything as it is in orbit nearby. I guess someone finally looked out a window. The Grey Man checks his data for this Vulchor class cruiser ("List weight two thousand tons, solar powered, main battery 64 Maxun blast cannons...") and notes that such ships are led by a "half-captain" with tactical, but not strategic, command.

He get signal. Main screen turn on. The Tolnep half-captain, Rogodeter Snowl, wishes the Grey Man "good spacing" and asks if he has any information about the planet below. The Grey Man is polite but noncommittal, so the Tolnep mentions how he'd like to wake the rest of his crew from "deep sleep" and do things his way: "a quick smash-bash, a few beings seized from here and there, and a rapid interrogation."

But the Grey Man advises caution. Even though there's three hundred and two planetary suspects, and though it's still too early to be sure, the Grey Man's instincts say that "this just could be the one."

The Tolnep is loath to just sit and watch for months, but agrees to be patient, even inviting the Grey Man over for tea sometime -- assuming the Hockners, Bolbods or Hawvins don't show up and make things interesting. The Grey Man goes back to his indigestion pills.

He glanced down at the planet face below them. Was it really the one? If it were, in one way it would be a relief. But if it were, what violence could go shooting down at it!

"The one" should really be rendered as The One. But yeah, we've got some near-mythical "chosen one" bullcrap going on. At the moment it looks like Earth and humanity as a whole gets to bask in it, but I have a feeling this will change once the aliens get a look at the wonder that is Jonnie.

Speaking of aliens, the only description we have so far of The Grey Man is his coloration, while the Tolnep captain is given a "hard face" under a "shield helmet," though at least he has poisonous fangs that make his smile disconcerting. The Psychlos, lest we forget, are basically big, bony, explosive humans. In some settings a bunch of suspiciously-human aliens is the sign of something deeper, like Precursors or ancient interstellar travel. Here it's a sign of a lazy and uncreative author.

And solar-powered battleships? Environmentally-friendly, I guess, but wouldn't you want a power source that doesn't require large, exposed, fragile panels on your hull?

Back to Part Twenty, Chapter Ten

Friday, August 13, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 10 - Posthumous Promotion

So Jonnie arrives in Scotland with Bittie's body, at Edinburgh's Castle Rock, or Dunedin. You shouldn't be shocked that the two-thousand-year-old ruins have survived to be undergoing restoration.

Things immediately head towards a crisis, thanks to the pictures of the shootout at the minesite, which a messenger managed to send to Scotland ahead of Jonnie. While preparations are made for Bittie's funeral, Jonnie gets to meet with the chiefs in "an assembly with only one, single-minded purpose: WAR!"

When Robert the Fox shows up, he privately chastises Jonnie for not changing clothes. He's soaked with Bittie's blood, which the Argyll chief claims calls out for war. When Jonnie points out that Bittie's murderer is pretty dead at the moment, the Scots bring up Allison, the guy the Brigantes sold to the Psychlos. These two deaths of course require a blood feud and the annihilation of the Brigantes.

Jonnie is distraught - not at the idea of ethnic cleansing, but because a war would ruin his plans to get that teleporter built and figure out what's going on in the wider galaxy. So he promises the Scottish clans a "SUCCESSFUL war" if they'll follow his commands, be patient, and plan for a few months. Then "we will have war, we will have revenge, and we will have a chance of everlasting victory!"

The crowd loves this and bellows Heil Jonnie! until their voices give out. The next day they bury Bittie after a mile-long funeral proces... really? Mankind's on the verge of extinction, but there are enough people in the Edinburgh area to form a mile-long line? Anyway, wouldn't you know it but Saint Giles' Cathedral has survived the apocalypse intact, so that's where Bittie's interred. Man, it's encouraging to know that even after the near-annihilation of the human race, people still took the time to preserve those old historical landmarks for centuries.

Bittie gets promoted to a full-fledged Knight, because running unknowingly into danger thanks to completely misinterpreting the situation and getting shot in the gut for it is a screw-up beyond what mere squires are capable of. When Pattie reads the locket he got for her, she collapses across Bittie's sarcophagus, sobbing. It gets creepier later.

But Bittie was not really gone. He had become a legend. Future generations, if they survived, would hold in song and story the memory of Sir Bittie who they said had saved the life of Jonnie.

What about Allison? Or Dmitri? Or those handful of Scots who died during the strike against the Psychlos? Or the three Russians who died in Africa? Why is Bittie so special? Just because he's a kid who willingly followed a warband around? Or do you have to die within a certain distance of Jonnie to become martyred? That's it, isn't it - if you get shot in a battle, you're a casualty, but if you get shot and Jonnie cradles your dying body in his arms, you're a hero.

At least this explains why there are so few humans despite having a thousand years to build up the species' numbers. One member of your tribe gets killed by a neighbor? Blood feud and genocide. Lars and Brown Limper still need to be brought to justice for setting up the situation, but the Brigantes involved in the ambush (though I thought they were going to take Jonnie to an exploding house?) are all dead. I guess Allison still requires some sort of justice, but shouldn't that involve finding who sold him out instead of warring against an entire population?

Then again, the heroes have been looking for an excuse to wipe out the Brigantes for a while now.

Random fact for this chapter: the chief of Clanfearghus is denoted as king of Scotland and "the entire British Isles." Sucks to be English, Irish or Welsh in the year 3000.

Next chapter starts a new Part. With aliens.

Back to Part Twenty, Chapter Nine

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 9 - Bye-Bye Bittie

Jonnie goes back to Bittie, certain the squirt from Scotland is dead. "Nobody could take that many submachine gun slugs in the middle of his body---and a small body---and live." The sight of a boy lying on the bloodsoaked ground, riddled with bullets, is enough to make Jonnie feel "awful."

But when Jonnie starts to pick him up, Bittie's eyes open and he whispers "I... I wasn't a very good squire... was I... Sir Jonnie." Crying, Bittie grabs Jonnie's wrist as the shock wears off and the pain returns, spasms once, and, having satisfied narrative conventions by rasping some tragic last words, is finally allowed to die.

Wonder how long he was lying there not bleeding to death while Jonnie was killing every African in the compound...

Jonnie of course is too emotional to speak, to tell Bittie that he was indeed a good squire that saved his life. I guess without seeing Bittie get shot, Jonnie wouldn't have worked up the energy to slaughter all those Brigantes on his own. After crying for a while, Jonnie puts Bittie's corpse in the car, up in the front seat. He notices the dead Russian and loads him up too, displaying no reaction to the other dead man at all. Then it's off to the Academy, Bittie's bloody corpse in his lap while he drives, Jonnie's horses following the truck as it goes at a walking pace.

Even after arrival Jonnie just sits down holding Bittie's body, unable to speak. The whole school turns out once word spreads, and then truckloads of Russians arrive, until there's a large mob brandishing weapons and glaring at the distant compound. There's more environmental symbolism as a mountain storm rolls in. That's what, the second, third?  How many storms have approached without actually arriving over the past few days?  Oh, and hey, the guy in charge of the surveillance drones drives up to show the pictures of what happened. Not a video though, just print-out pictures.

The mob, learning that all the Brigantes in the compound are dead, decide to go off and kill Terl, I guess because they want to kill something. But Jonnie finally overcomes his sorrow and reminds everyone of the big picture. Then he packs up Bittie's corpse and prepares to fly the boy home to Scotland.

Before he closed the door, he looked down at the crowd and said, slowly and clearly. "It is not the time for revenge." And then he added a bitter, grim "Yet!" The crowd nodded. They understood. Later it would be an entirely different matter.

Oh, and the dead Russian was Dmitri.

Back to Chapter Eight

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 8 - Muh-muh-muh-muh-Monster Kill!

Jonnie spots another truck racing towards the compound, while from the east approaches a surveillance drone. He assumes they aren't friendly and concludes that he's on his own. But the guards are surprised by the approaching ground vehicle, which pulls up and disgorges Bittie, carrying his new riding crop. He cries "I'll get the horses, Sir Jonnie. It's my job!" and runs up the hill towards Dancer the horse.

Completely missing the significance of the two armed guards flanking Jonnie.

Russian #whatever and Jonnie yell for Bittie to come back, but it's no use. Just when the self-styled squire reaches Dancer, a Brigante jumps out from behind a boulder and hoses Bittie down with a full burst to the gut. Bittie drops, and two more Brigantes jump out of hiding to kill the Russian.

Berserk, Jonnie takes a step backwards, slams his two guards together "like egg shells," catches one of their guns as it falls, crushes its former owner's skull with the heel of his boot, drops the other with a point-blank burst, then goes to a knee and blows away the two newcomers gangsta-style "so [the Thompson's] kick would fan the bullets."

Not much to say but day-am, boy!

Bittie's killer has gone to ground, but five more Brigantes storm out of the compound. Jonnie tosses his now-jammed gun aside, ignores the incoming bullets, takes up the second Thompson, drops to a knee behind the downed Russian, and eliminates all five attackers in another sideways spray.

Then he picks up the Russian's assault rifle to deal with eight more Brigantes coming out of a ravine. He picks off the last in line first so that the Brigante's comrades won't know he's dead, which is a pointless gesture since Jonnie just drops all the rest in another spray of semiautomatic fire, causing "an avalanche of dead men."

Meanwhile in the compound, Lars is is hiding in a garage, burrowing under a wrecked car to stay out of sight, "sobbing with terror."

Jonnie's bloodlust, however, remains unsated since he hasn't caught Bittie's killer. He runs into another group of Brigante and kills them. We're not told how many, or what technique Jonnie used, or even if they were returning fire.

Meanwhile in his cage - oh, we're in the mining compound! - Terl's flat on the ground, panting in fear, waiting for the animal to come kill him next, too scared to try to fashion the explosives hidden in his cage into a grenade.

Jonnie's not done killing yet. Darting from cover to cover he hunts for the "ape" who killed Bittie, turning two more mercenaries into "rolling balls of dead flesh" with only a nicked neck from a lucky bullet for his trouble. Then he spots his target, who turns and tries to resist, but Jonnie "slice[s] him in two" with his assault rifle as the roaring recon drone passes overhead (I guess so others can watch the footage and be impressed by Jonnie's pwnage).

One of the mercenaries is still alive, crawling on the ground for a weapon, desperate for something to use against this unstoppable murder machine. Jonnie dispatches him. His rage spent, he goes to Bittie.

Jonnie's kills this chapter: at least 20.

Good thing Bittie showed up and got shot or else there's no way Jonnie could've survived that ambush, huh?

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 7 - I Forget Where the "Compound" Is, To Be Honest

All is going according to Lars' plan. He didn't post any guards outside or to escort Jonnie specifically so that none of Jonnie's allies might be tempted to make a rescue attempt. He's even sent a commando (a Brigante military unit, not an individual) ahead to the compound for added security. All the while Lars imagines his beloved Hitler approving of his tactical acumen, what with ordering someone at gunpoint to go into a booby-trapped house instead of putting a bullet to good use. Though he's starting to get Hitler and Terl's advice confused, so that every time he thinks of his Führer it's rendered as "Hitler---or was it Terl?"

Meanwhile Jonnie is contemplating escape, where to hit Lars' neck cast to finish the job of breaking it, and how familiar the Brigante "creatures" are with their guns. Since the Thompsons are so dilapidated and ancient you have to know a trick to recocking them when the inevitable dud rounds occur. Jonnie briefly considers the "let me show you a trick with your gun" move, but soon they're at the compound.

Lars taunts that they found the fueled and waiting battle plane back at the Academy and put it up, which explains why Ker and Angus assumed all was well and took off. But he promises (lies) that he'll let Jonnie use a truck to gather up his horses to take home. And then Jonnie is forced out at gunpoint into a wide meadow with no cover or escape. Could this be the end?

No. Hubbard already told us that Bittie bites it, not Jonnie. The tension of an uncertain future is supposed to be replaced with the tension of an inevitable conclusion rolling nearer. Mostly I'm feeling impatience, the residual annoyance that comes from reading Battlefield Earth, and a strong desire to play Team Fortress 2.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, August 9, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 6 - The Beginning of the End (for Bittie)

Let's reflect on Bittie. A tagalong kid who thinks he's a squire, Bittie's main contribution to the plot has been worshiping Jonnie. The same could be said of many other characters, of course, but there's just something about Bittie that makes the opening paragraph to this chapter so encouraging:

The incident that would later become known as "The Murder of Bittie MacLeod," which would bring the planet toward war, cost many men their lives, and later become the subject of ballads, romances and legend, began at noon that day with Bittie's unfortunate spotting of Jonnie in the capitol area of Denver.

This chapter is mostly narration leading up to this event, which doesn't actually occur until Chapter 8. Nice of Hubbard to give us the head's up on what'll happen, though.

Bittie tagged along with the Russians who took over and locked down the American missile base, so he could take care of Jonnie's horses like a good squire. He and his good Russian buddy Dmitri Tomlov, who I'm sure will be a very important recurring character, were in Denver doing some shopping. Dmitri bought Bittie a riding crop which is, as a minor plot point, about the length of a Brigante bow. Bittie gets a golden locket and has a new Swiss immigrant, who is of course a skilled craftsman and jeweler, engrave "To Pattie, my future wife" on it.

He wouldn't have been able to afford it, but the Swiss family who runs the shop was selling out and packing up after suffering an attack by Brigante "police," who tried to rob the place and beat up their son. This has caused some confusion among the locals.

The council, when approached by the few people now in Denver, had admitted that yes, the Brigantes were "police," and that law and order was vital and that it was a felony to resist "police." Nobody really knew what "police" meant as a word, but they had come to realize it was something very bad.

Yet again, I call "wha?" Nobody's society in the thousand years after the Psychlo invasion had any sort of a police force? No warrior caste to carry out the chief's will? No sworn upholders of tribal law? No sheriffs, prefects, constables, watchmen, or reeves? Did everyone just get along when they weren't feudin' or warrin' with other tribes?

I'd complain about crappy worldbuilding, but I think this is some more social commentary by L. Ron, about how policemen are thuggish thieves who can't be trusted, unlike a man who spent over a decade roaming the high seas after cheesing off the FBI by attempting to infiltrate the US government to protect his home-brewed religion.

Anyway, on the way back from the shop Bittie and Russian #2 sees Jonnie walking out of the capitol towards a ground car. After he gets in, someone else (Lars) exits, yells about Jonnie going back to pick up his horses to someone inside the building, and gets in the car too. Bittie freaks out, not because anything about this situation strikes him as suspicious, but because dealing with the horses is his job. He and Russian #2 run around Denver until they find Russian #3, hop in a car, and take off after Jonnie.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, August 6, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 5 - A Trial of the Year 3000

More environmental symbolism: when Jonnie is being driven out of the Academy, there's a storm rolling in. Jonnie notices this ill omen and is in no mood for conversation, telling Lars to shut up when he starts to prattle on about Hitler some more.

Jonnie is brought before a robed Brown Limper "loom[ing] like a vulture about to attack a corpse" from his high seat. The green-eyed cripple recognizes Jonnie immediately but asks his name for the sake of the recorders, and to make things good and legal. Jonnie is a mouthy and bored prisoner, tells his judge that he knows quite well who he is, and isn't interested when his smart-assery adds "contempt of court" to the list of charges against him.

These charges are murdering the Super Chamco Bros., kidnapping those two coordinators in Africa, murder and assault against the Brigantes, and massacring "a convoy of peaceful commercial people going about their business and maliciously slaughtering them to the last man." There's also a bunch of lesser crimes like stealing remote controls and shooting down Terl, but Brown Limper's saving his master stroke for last.

He reveals the bill of sale in which Terl "sold" him the entirety of Earth, a deed which will become valid once Terl goes back to Psychlo with the money via the teleportation rig he's building. Brown Limper then places Jonnie under house arrest, concluding with a "Hey man!" to add a touch of piety and dumbness to the proceedings.

Jonnie uses his last request to ask to pick up his horses before going home, which our polite and reasonable villains agree to. And off Jonnie goes. Unescorted. Alone.

These villains suck.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 4 - In Which There is Stalling, But a Distinct Lack of Stalin

Jonnie enters Char's room to pack and is immediately arrested by Lars and two Brigantes with Tommy guns. Jonnie realizes that it'll take an hour for Ker and Angus to finish their work, and that "these creatures" may have arrest orders for them, too. So he decides to stall for an hour.

The character the story insists is our hero engages in small talk, complains that he hasn't eaten since yesterday, and asks if he can have breakfast. Lars is a polite Nazi, so he humors him. So Jonnie drinks some water. He has a banana. He offers a banana to the "creatures" from Africa, but Lars keeps them from eating, which is a shame because it's been ever so long since they've had one. He takes his time picking the right slice of bread to eat. He makes a sandwich. He eats some berries. He chews some sugar cane.

Eighteen minutes killed, Jonnie repacks and changes clothes. Lars acquiesces, since he wants to see Jonnie's collar scars, though feel free to make some homoerotic inferences if you so desire. Jonnie takes extra long deciding which outfit to wear to his trial, with Lars offering advice. The fascist Swede is triumphant when he sees Jonnie's collar scars, and taunts that the "little tricks" he's installed in Terl's quarters will be uncovered.

Jonnie takes a sponge bath. The Brigantes watch, fascinated with this concept of "bathing." We're not told whether or not Lars watched Jonnie bathe, but it's a distinct possibility.

Then Jonnie wonders about this "Hitter or Bitter" person Lars is crazy about, which sets him off and provokes an epic exchange.

"You mean Hitler!" corrected Lars angrily.

"Ah, 'Hitler,'" said Jonnie. "That doesn't sound like a Psychlo name. Psychlo names aren't two syllables, usually. Sometimes they are, though."

This is where the dumb begins.

For the next fifteen minutes, the last fifteen minutes before Angus and Ker will hopefully be done and out of sight, Lars raves about "the greatest military leader and the holiest church member man ever had!"

Lars knows all about Hitler from his father, a minister who has lovingly preserved some holy books from the "German War Propaganda Ministry" for one thousand and fifty-odd years. Hitlerism was the state religion of Sweden, you know, since you needed to be a proper Aryan to be really religious.

Oh yeah, Mein Kampf survived Armageddon too. It's never a Pratchett book that forms the basis of post-apocalyptic society, is it?

Anyway, Hitler was sent to Earth as representative of God, a.k.a. Der Führer, and conquered the whole world to spread peace and goodwill and racial purity. Legendary military leaders like Napoleon and Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great are all well and good, but only Hitler combined holiness with the ability to conquer Russia through finesse, which Napoleon certainly couldn't pull off. Though Hitler's mighty empire has fallen through no fault of his own, if mankind follows the creed of "religious fascism" some new Hitler may emerge to lead man into a second golden age. And Lars' granny always said Lars had an uncanny resemblance...

I object to all this, though it's hard to articulate why. On the one hand, yes, it's been a thousand years of barbarism and records from the old days would be rare. But on the other hand, certain things, like a megalomaniacal mass-murdering dictator who killed millions and plunged the world into bloody conflict and left a stain upon his nation's soul for generations, stuff like that tends to stick in the ol' racial memory. And then there's the fact that people remember Napoleon, Attila, and Alexander, but not the fact that Hitler wasn't Jesus. Also, Lars' family apparently forgot the meaning of "propaganda."

It's just one of this book's many issues, the uneven amount of loss and recovery in the millennium since doomsday. Like the setting can't decide if it's a second dark age with ignorant barbarians who don't know the name of their nation, or a place with historians and bankers and aspiring engineers and underground universities. There's just something so artificial and contrived about it all. Yes, as a work of fiction everything in this book was planned by its author for a specific reason. But better authors can make worlds that feel like they evolved on their own. Here everything feels like an amazing coincidence that gives Jonnie a set of challenges to face and easily overcome.

Enough rambling. Jonnie hears a car's engine roar, recognizes the "mad driving of Ker" from the sound of it, and realizes his friends are now safe. So he goes off with Lars and the African "creatures."

Hey, Hitler and Jonnie may have something in common after all...

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 3 - Body Doubles and Booby Traps

Meanwhile, Brown Limper Staffor is still obsessing over Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. He's spent several sleepless days ignoring his duties as planetary mayor, trying to hunt down his nemesis. A recon drone took a picture of "Jonnie" dancing around a bonfire in Scotland, but Brown Limper remembered that Jonnie was still limping from his old head injury. Then another drone spotted "Jonnie" on the shores of Lake Victoria, but he was throwing rocks with the wrong arm.

Well I'll be. Jonnie's injuries are actually a plot point.

Lars shows up and claims that Jonnie's at the compound, disguised as Stormalong. The scarf gave him away - Terl told his human associates to look for Jonnie's collar scars, and "Stormalong" was wearing his scarf awfully high.

The narration tells us that For all the wrong reasons, they had reached the right conclusion. I'm not sure what to make of that. Did Jonnie not have scars on his neck? I guess not, since he didn't make a particular effort to conceal any. So Lars just lucked out on "Stormalong" wearing his accessory wrong, then?

Anyway. In the moments he hasn't spent fuming over his nemesis, Brown Limper has finalized his contract with the Brigantes and used them to relocate the Village of the Idiots to the spot Jonnie wanted them to move to. Then they rigged Jonnie's house to explode if the door was so much as opened, something they can blame on the old tactical nuclear mines buried around the settlement (turns out that's what the radiation was from, by the way).

All that's left is to send Jonnie home. So the Brigantes are ordered to replace the Academy's security force, since the student taking turns as guards need to spend their time studying. Lars the Nazi of the Year 3000 is sent with two henchmen to arrest Jonnie, then send him off under house arrest. Then boomies.

...Hey, Brown Limper? Why not just shoot Jonnie? Arrest him, put him in a car, drive him out of town, put a bullet in the back of his head, and dump the body in the woods somewhere. Do you really think the Scots won't be miffed when their demigod is killed in a mysterious explosive mishap after being sent into a building on your orders? At least disappearing Jonnie lets you deny that there's even been a murder. You're not a very good dictator, are you?
Next chapter, the theology of Adolf Hitler, as told by the apostle Lars.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 2 - Further Espionage

Jonnie's chilling on a twelve-foot bed that used to belong to Char. You remember him, right? The guy Terl killed?

Anyway, Jonnie's found Char's copy of the History of Psychlo, a children's book. It mentions how the Psychlo homeworld ran out of minerals three hundred thousand years ago, and is now "a maze of deep and abandoned mines and drifts."

Some of the shafts went down as far as eighty-three miles and in some cases that was within half a mile of the liquid core.


According to Wikipedia, eighty-three miles beneath Earth's surface just gets you as far as the Asthenosphere, the upper mantle. The outer core itself starts around 1,800 miles down. If planet Psychlo is Earth-like in structure and has similar ratios between its planetary layers, it's a tiny little planet only two hundred or so miles deep, compared to Mercury's 1,500. Which wouldn't make any sense if Psychlo's supposed to be a heavy-gravity world, since it would need more mass. So either Psychlo's innards consist of super-duper-dense elements, it has an unusually huge core in comparison to its total size like Mercury does, or I've just put more thought and research into the issue than L. Ron Hubbard did when he was slapping this dreck together.

How awfully hot those mines must have been! They could only be worked by machines, not living beings.

I just stared at these sentences for many minutes.

My biggest gripes about the whole "need humans to mine the radioactive gold" concerned the lack of drone miners, which would be able to go places the Psychlos couldn't. Turns out the aliens had them all along. They just didn't use them.

It's just... why wouldn't they bring them to a world that contains elements that make them explode? Why couldn't Terl get his hands on one off the record? I mean, I know the whole moronic "Terl wants gold" plot is an excuse to get Jonnie's hands on Psychlo technology, but... did it have to be so achingly obvious and artificial? The Psychlos lacking drone miners despite having drone aircraft is stupid. The Psychlos having drone miners and not using them is insultingly stupid. The worst thing would be if there were mining robots in the bases on Earth, but Terl just didn't think to use them.

Good Lord, this is just the third paragraph of this chapter and I already have a migraine from the sheer stupidity.

Jonnie's gotten as far as the "First Interplanetary War to End Mineral Starvation" when Ker shows up and tells him Dunneldeen was arrested by "two men in monkey skins with crossbelts" when he left the canteen. Lars drove the car that took him to a courtroom before the Senior Mayor Planet, who screeched that he wasn't Tyler and let him go after making 'deen promise not to make this a feuding issue with Scotland.

The next day, Jonnie and Angus and Ker get to work... oh? You were expecting a reaction to the news of Dunneldeen's arrest and the notion that Jonnie's being hunted? There isn't one. Jonnie and Angus eat food and go to sleep (for four hours, if you were curious). Cut to the next day.

Anyway. Still bugging Terl's office with "bullet holes" and "eyes," taking care to disguise the surveillance tools by repairing the "bubble patch" and "crack." Ker's able to eat kerbango "goo-food" through his mask. Apparently he pranked Terl by having Lars deliver some "flitter," a compound that sparks blue in sunlight, in order to make Terl think he nearly had some radioactive material near him. Tee hee.

Work on the ducts, making them appear rickety... man, I hope there's no important plot points in this chapter, because I'm struggling to read this. After the whole planet core and drone miners thing, I want to be done. They set up the recorders to transmit to the Academy, and since airborne transmissions would interfere with the anti-bug probe, the solution is to rig the transmitters to use "ground-waves."

Yeah. You just stick a rod into the earth, and you send the right wavelengths through the ground to a receiving rod, and you get high-def video.


After pulling an all-nighter, everything's finished and working. Angus reveals that he's got a plane fueled up and waiting, and that Sir Robert has ordered that Jonnie get to safety before he gets captured. But Jonnie wants to see this thing through, danger or no. He goes back to get his kit. But is he really leaving? Cliffhanger!

Random fact for this chapter: the three receiver/recorders at the Academy for the bugs in Terl's office are hidden under a tile before the alter in the chapel, in a telephone box, and in a toilet.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, August 2, 2010

Part 20, Chapter 1 - Espionage

Starting Part 20 of 32 on page 609 of 1083. Strange to think the book's over halfway over. The story had a nice conclusion several Parts ago, but now we're stuck in the stuff that couldn't make it as a standalone sequel.

Anyway, back to Jonnie and his cohorts working towards their next objective: "really bugging the place more thoroughly than any place had ever been bugged while still preventing the bugs from being discovered by one who, although quite mad, was one of the sharpest security chiefs to walk out of the mine schools."

Short version: they're gonna bug the hell out of Terl's office.

They want pictures and video of him drawing up the schematics for a "transhipment console," allowing them to crack the secrets of Psychlo teleportation. Then they can use it to learn what happened to the Psychlo homeworld and make contact with the other races of the universe(s). But Terl is wily and paranoid (even though he makes self-incriminating statements to corpses when the plot requires), and will surely sweep the room with a probe. To make the stakes even higher, that lovely little implant in Terl's skull will make him commit suicide if he suspects he's being watched.

It's a tense situation, but all Angus can think about is how awesome Jonnie is for having to foresight to keep Terl as a prisoner instead of just shooting him, and how courageous Jonnie is for working towards this supposedly-hopeless goal, even if it means his own death.

Angus, I want to toss a caber at yon head, ye ken?

The Scottish technical expert manages to jimmy the locks on Terl's drawers, which sounds like a disturbing double entendre. Inside are papers about the mineral content of Earth, and Jonnie learns that there's sixteen other gold deposits out there, as well as numerous other metals. Terl had just stolen the records for his own ends. This is all thanks to the Psychlo "semicore" mining tactics, which "go down almost to the molten core, to the very bottom of the crust without breaking through." Screw you, mantle.

Then they get their hands on their real objective, Terl's probe, which again sounds dirty. Sorry. Jonnie uses his incredible technical ability to rig the bug-scanner to emit a signal when the device is turned on. This signal would in turn close little lead-coated shutters over the bugs they've planted. The short version is that every time Terl turns on his bug detector, the listening devices and cameras will be shielded from detection, at least until he turns the thing off. The long version involves terms like "microbutton transmitters" and "molecular spray," and prose like "But the eye that could detect them unaided had never been made."

Jonnie and Angus test out the compromised device to their satisfaction, then go around the building collecting any other bug detectors, or even components that could make a bug detector. They realize that they've skipped lunch. Jonnie writes a note to Dunneldeen, ordering him to take the Psychlos held in the compound to Cornwall and report them "crashed at sea." The not-doctor needs to see if he can extract those mind-controlling devices from live subjects...

And Ker goes to get them something to eat from the Academy. Didn't want to end this on a cliffhanger. Rest assured, our heroes will be fed.

Back to Part Nineteen, Chapter Eight