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 F├╝hrer, 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

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