Monday, September 27, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 6 - Where's the Kaboom? There Was Supposed to be an Earth-Shattering Kaboom!

I just noticed that last chapter was post 200. That's... pretty terrifying.

No time to reminisce, this chapter's a whopping eight pages long. Our viewpoint character is Sir Robert, under the dome with an unconscious Jonnie while the whole world is exploding around them. Not that he notices. "He had only one idea in mind: to get his hands loose and help Jonnie."

There may be more chemistry between Jonnie and his henchmen than between Jonnie and his love interest.

Well, first Robert has to finish hacking through "the cord." I think this refers to the cable for the force field, but if it wasn't severed two chapters ago how did the dome come down? After that it's first aid time. To summarize one and a half pages: he sucks the poison out of Jonnie's wound and ties off the arm.

What you're missing:

It was hard to find the wound because of the blood.

He found it.

He took the edge of the hatchet blade and cut an X across the wound hole.

He got out of his arm mask and put his mouth to the wound-

And so forth.

While waiting in the darkness for rescue next to his buddy, Robert remembers his capture. Turns out he went on a hill one night to take a look at the compound and got jumped by some Brigantes. Given the Brigantes' Mook status and the Scots' record against everything, there's really no excuse for why Robert got captured instead of effortlessly killing a dozen Brigantes at once with an empty pistol or Slinky. He was tortured, but he's too awesome to crack, though when it looked like he was going to be taken to Psychlo he started to get nervous, what with the aliens' penchant for slow murders. But mostly Sir Robert feels bad because Jonnie may have gotten himself fatally poisoned to save him.

Then there's a crackle on the radio. It's Thor! Who's Thor again? And then Dr. Allen! Wasn't he the historian? Anyway, they explain that Jonnie and Foxy have to sit tight for a bit longer because of all the radiation outside the dome.

From where? Not the teleporter, since the Psychlos were using it without, y'know, exploding. Terl's bomb? Then how did he handle it? Jonnie's bomb, presumably the one with the beryllium core? Again, how'd Terl handle it? There were some nukes on standby in case more Psychlos showed up, but they weren't used.

The humans are confused, too. But the answer to this riddle lies in Terl's destination. It'll be explained later.

Then a new voice chimes in: Quong, the Littlest Buddhist Radio Communicator. I like how "Tibetan" and "Buddhist" are interchangeable in Hubbard's mind. The kid asks about Jonnie (of course), and Foxy tells everyone not to worry, then learns about the situation: the "visitors" have now broken formation and are waiting directly above Denver, watching closely. Meanwhile the minesite has been reduced to a smoking crater, and some of the Scots in their foxhole-coffins are having to be dug out by forklifts. And while Robert just wants some serum to cure Jonnie's poison, he's told that everything in the area has been contaminated and will have to be "hosed down to get rid of the radiation."

Presumably, then, Chernobyl will be ready for refurbishment once the Ukrainians get off their fannies and tell the fire department to give the place a good soaking. Just try to spray all the "radiation" into the Pripyat and you'll be fine.

After much worrying about Jonnie's initially fast, then fading, pulse, finally a "blade scraper" comes by to pick up the teleporter platform, dome and all, and then it's on a flatbed and off to an old highway to take them to a river to wash off all that nasty radiation. After a shower, the dome is removed and Jonnie is grabbed by a nurse. Sir Robert looks north to see a glowing sky. "They had just come from hell."

Or a major city at night. This would be a good place for some apocalyptic imagery, maybe mention how the trees are all blasted and twisted like the fingers of the damned, or how the blood red clouds swirled and roiled and mixed with the pitch black smoke, or how the ruins were bathed in a glow like from a furnace, or how ash drifted down like a bleak parody of snow. But all we get is a crater and glowing sky.

So much for looking like "the world had been torn apart!"

Oh, and the Brigante tribe that fled from the battle? Dead on the plains. No response at all from the characters to this news, good or bad. They're all too busy worrying about Jonnie.

Back to Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Five

Friday, September 24, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 5 - L. Ron Hubbard vs Journalists

I guess the apocalyptic showdown between a Mary Sue and the forces of Stupid is interesting and all, but I'm just dying to know: what are those aliens up to?

Tolnep Half-Captain Rogodeter Snowl has returned from his homeworld with a fleet of five ships loaned by his uncle, the Quarter-Admiral Snowleter, which includes the carrier ship Capture. And a journalist.

Roof Arsebogger considered hims

Sorry, I need a minute.

Okay. Let's try this again.

Roof Arsebogger considered himself the ace reporter of the Tolnep Midnight Fang. Even among news media of other systems, the Fang was envied as the very epitome of inaccuracy, corruption, and biased news. It always printed exactly what the government wanted even while pretending to be antigovernment. And Roof Arsebogger enjoyed the reputation of being the most poisonous reporter on a staff that specialized in them.

"Arse" is, as many people know, British slang for the buttocks, a more vulgar variant of "bum." Similarly, "bugger" is a British colloquialism for sodomy. Now, Hubbard had a reputation as a globe-trotting adventurer, so it's highly unlikely that he was unaware of the connotations behind a name like "Arsebogger."

So why did he use it? There are a few possibilities:

  1. Roof Arsebogger is a strawman journalist, a corrupt government puppet, whose very name is supposed to elicit scorn and disgust.
  2. Hubbard was in a drug-addled fugue when it came time to name his alien characters, and threw together whatever sounds caught his fancy.
  3. Roof Arsebogger is a clue that Hubbard secretly thought Battlefield Earth was a colossal joke, a way to laugh at all the gullible dopes who treated his book as a serious work of fiction instead of a way for L. Ron to get more of his brainwashed sycophants' money.

I may have to explore the third option in a later essay.

Anyway, Buttswamper is having an interview with Snowl about that man on the "counterfeit one-credit bank note," that "defiler of established governments," Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. The other aliens, including The Grey Man, are idly listening in as they keep their scanners pointed at Earth.

"Would the description, 'He is a known pervert,' fit him?"

"Oh, worse," replied Snowl.

"Good, good," said Arsebogger. "We must keep this to a totally factual interview, you understand. How would 'He steals babies and drinks their blood,' do?"

Sounds like a certain author has a grudge against those lousy, snooping reporters. Also, the "pervert" and "babies" remarks bring up important questions about the commonalities of human and alien reproductive systems and societal norms concerning sexuality and child-rearing. The implication is that humanity's values are universal, but this is both lazy and unrealistic for a supposed work of "pure" science fiction, and should at least be explored in a little more detail. They won't be. This is just an off-hand statement to show how loathsome news reporters are.

The Grey Man is watching his viewscreen with distaste, due to his resentment of journalists in general and Fannymarsher in particular, what with his how his fangs are "stained nearly black, there were blotches of some disease on his face, and one could almost smell his unwashed condition over the viewscreen."

Hubbard hates journalists. Slimy bastards, telling stories about brainwashing or mass infiltration of the U.S. government or deaths under mysterious circumstances...

But the bigger development is that The Gray Man's courier ship arrived yesterday with news that the one has not yet been found, and the hundred million credit prize offered by the Hawvin Interrelated Confederation of Systems has been doubled by the Bolbod Equality Empire. Across the universes everyone is scrambling to find one particular planet, and The Grey Man's superiors are quietly pointing out that he's not doing a lot of good waiting over "a twelfth-rate rim star's only planet."

...So do I rage at the imaginary aliens or Hubbard for suggesting Earth is the only planet in the Solar System?

But then sensors suddenly pick up interference from the Denver area, cutting of the interview with the telltale signs of a teleportation trace. Then the viewscreens are overloaded by a massive explosion!

A fireball was climbing heavenward. Spreading, rolling masses of coiling smoke and flame were rising to incredible heights.

Daylight was dimmed by the flash.

It looked like the world had been torn apart!

If only we were so lucky. The Gray Man's just being deceptively over-dramatic.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 4 - The Final Countdown

Buh-da duhn duh... da-duh duhn-duhn-duhn...

I guess this is the story's second climax, or something. Certainly a lot happens in this six-page chapter.

On Dwight's third alert Jonnie "slid" out of his platform-side coffin and immediately has a spanner thrown in his plans: General Snith is suited up for a trip to Psychlo, and has six guards with him standing next to Terl. Jonnie readies his flamethrower to burn them all down unawares, but spots the bound hostage before he opens fire. He recognizes Sir Robert and adds a rescue operation to the day's agenda.

Terl sees Jonnie and is confused as to how the "Jonnie" on the other side of the force field got over here. Before the Psychlo can charge, Jonnie scatters all the phony contracts Terl signed across the platform. "Don't forget to record these on Psychlo!" That gets Terl busy scooping up the incriminating evidence, and Jonnie goes on to distract the Brigantes by shouting "Grenade!" and tossing a "beryllium ultimate bomb," which weighs eighty pounds, mind you, directly at Terl.

So the Brigantes are running from the grenade and bouncing off the force field, and Terl's mind is blown by a teleporting Jonnie somehow stealing his bomb from Brown Limper, and his efforts to get rid of it are hampered by the same force field, so he desperately starts clawing at the bomb's casing to open it up and defuse it. The villains are, scientifically-speaking, completely bamboozled, hopelessly wrong-footed by our super-strong, super-smart protagonist.

Well, one Brigante manages to take a shot at Jonnie, purely for the sake of drama, but misses.

Jonnie rushes to Sir Robert who of course is all "Leave me and save yourself!", which is something heroes simply don't do. While Jonnie drags Sir Robert to safety he kill-clubs two attacking Brigantes with two mighty blows, breaks another's neck with a thrown club, brains a forth who tackles his legs, hits a fifth with a thrown club that breaks physics by sending the victim "catapult[ing] backward," and then parries a sixth Brigante's bayonet with a wooden club and crushes the enemy's skull.

And yes, every blow Jonnie deals instantly incapacitates, if not kills, his target.

In an effort to make the fight something other than pointlessly lopsided, General Snith pierces Jonnie's arm with a poisoned arrow while the latter's back is turned. I'm just impressed with Jonnie's restraint in not killing Snith while he was butchering the rest of the Brigantes.

Jonnie stabs Snith in the heart with a dirk, pulls the arrow out, grits his teeth, and carries on, assuring himself that it's a "slow poison" even as he feels his heart speed up. So it's a neurotoxin that makes your heart beat faster until you die, I guess. Either the "speeds up your nervous system" comment last chapter was simply badly-worded, or else Hubbard thinks the heart is part of the nervous system... I'm not sure how much I'm joking.

Dwight's voice on the radio says "Ten seconds to withdraw!" and Jonnie still hasn't shut off the force field. He drops Foxy off by the console and notices that his vial of antivenom has shattered (drama points +2). Jonnie's vision starts flashing and his hands shake as his heart beats ever faster, but he notices that the console switch is in the "up" position now. Then he gets the dome over the console, starts to lower it, and hacks at the force field cabling.

But then he notices two approaching threats! Terl has popped open the bomb and extracted the core, which Jonnie realizes can be thrown like a bullet "straight through him." And then he sees that Brown Limper the club-footed cripple is "rushing" at him with a Tommy Gun, and if he fires everything will go boom!

Jonnie shouts a warning to Terl, who hurls the bomb's core at Staffor, ripping through his spine. The sad little man's last words are "Damn you, Tyler! Damn you!"

So, bullets from a gun: disastrous interference with the teleporter. Projectile thrown with bullet force: no problems.  Gunpowder combusting to propel bullets from a gun barrel: bad.  Napalm combusting after being squirted from a flamethrower: hunky-dory.

Terl taunts that "I still win, rat brain!" But Jonnie shouts back that the coffins Terl thought were full of money were swapped out last night for sawdust. And that the earlier set of golden-lidded coffins from last year were too.


How? When? And why didn't Terl notice the weight difference?! Why didn't Terl check the contents?! WHY EVEN GO THROUGH THE TROUBLE IF YOU'RE SENDING A PLANET-BUSTER BOMB ALONG WITH THE COFFINS?!

An utterly gobsmacked Terl shimmers and vanishes from the platform, along with the sawdust-stuffed coffins and a bunch of dead guys. Jonnie finally severs the force field cable and drops the dome over him, Sir Robert, and the console. He unties Sir Robert, realizes somehow that there must be a bomb under the console, extracts and defuses the explosive, and tells Sir Robert that the console toggle needs to be in the "down" position for the next firing.

The outside of the dome was struck a blow so hard the whole platform rocked!

It was as though a dozen earthquakes had hit at once. As though the planet had been torn apart.

Jonnie stiffened out into blackness. He no longer heard the chaos going on outside.

And so we end with a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that won't be resolved until Chapter 6, since the next one concerns those idiotic aliens.

...Isn't it possible to inject antivenom before you get poisoned? Or does that only work with antidotes to poison?

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 3 - And All Was Laid Unto Burnination

Dwight, Dwight... wasn't he Stormalong's copilot? Or was it Dunneldeen's? Eh, like it matters.

Dwight is now our viewpoint character, the commander of the raiding force about to attack the teleportation platform, chosen because "he could be depended upon to follow orders exactly, without deviation, and as one of the lode mine crew chiefs, he could handle men." I guess that's characterization.

He and his men... oh. Seriously, Hubbard? The coffin trick again? This really is a full repeat of Part 12. Yes, last midnight the Scottish attackers got into lead coffins Ker and the cadets placed around the perimeter, and were then buried by dirt and snow. There is no explanation as to how they got out once buried, or if there were any side effects from being buried in a lead box for hours in freezing weather.

Wait, Dwight did go numb - from worries about Jonnie. Our hero was buried in a coffin right next to the platform, since he insisted on being the one to check the position of that critical switch on the control console, cut the atmosphere cable to neutralize the force field around the platform, and finally drop an armored dome from a crane over the teleportation console.

...Where did they get an armored dome? When did they hang it from a crane? Why hasn't anyone noticed?

Dwight's nervous about the number of the crossbow-toting Brigantes, but luckily Dr. Allen (I thought he was the historian?) has come up with an antidote to the toxin the savages use on their bolts, which "caused the nervous system to speed up faster and faster until it killed."

Hubbard, honey? The nervous system doesn't move. It transmits signals at over a hundred meters per second. "Speeding up" this process to kill someone is pretty nonsensical. Now, slowing the signals or disrupting them altogether is another story, and how our friendly neighborhood nerve agents got on the banned weapon lists.

It's Dwight's job to yell into a radio "First alert!" when Terl gets on the platform, and "Second alert!" when Terl walks to the console, and "Third alert!" when Terl pushes the button. He completes these objectives admirably, though he grows worried when Dwight sees the bundled-up hostage Terl has with him.

With the final signal, "Action!," the other Scots attack, using weapons that won't interfere with the teleporter - flamethrowers salvaged from Russia (don't question it) and good ol' Claymores. Warcries of "For Allison!" and "For Bittie!" fill the air, and Dwight hits a button on a loudspeaker to play a recording of trumpeting elephants, which will surely terrify the Brigantes, who have lived all their lives in Africa and hunt the beasts for food.

The Brigante soldiers charge, and hey, the noncombatants hanging around run for the plains! They might survive after all! And of course it isn't a battle so much as a barbecue. One Scot goes down when his flamethrower sputters out and he gets mobbed in close combat, but otherwise it's another one-sided L. Ron fight scene.

"The operator," presumably Jonnie, though since he isn't referred to as such leaves the chance Hubbard is being tricksy, manages to get the dome moving - they buried it overnight to hide it?! But something's wrong and the force field isn't down yet, so the dome can't drop. Nevertheless, Dwight obeys his orders to withdraw before the backblast from the firing can hurt anyone, and gets back in his "coffin foxhole" along with the other Scots. The whole exchange took less than a minute and a half.

That dangerous Brigante toxin? A pointless detail, since the morons don't even bother to shoot their bows. No, when faced with flamethrowers, they try a bayonet charge.
There is just so much stupid in this book...

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 2 - Is it him? No. Or is it? Maybe it is.

This is a short chapter, which is good, but from Brown Limper's perspective, which is not. It starts with Terl confiscating his and Lars' firearms, but Staffor completely misses Terl's warning that gunfire around the teleporter platform will kill them all. He is, of course, still obsessing about Jonnie.

Terl had somebody else there in the bundle. Tyler? No, it couldn't be Tyler or Terl would have called out. Maybe it was Tyler. Maybe Terl was double-crossing him! No, it couldn't be Tyler. Who was it? But yes, it might be Tyler. They put an air mask on whoever it was. They meant to take somebody to Psychlo!

No, it couldn't be Tyler.

But maybe it was.

Riveting stuff. Also, if you're this worried about the identity of someone, stop speculating and take a good look at them. Or hell, ask who the prisoner is. But no, Brown Limper's too craaaazy to do something like verifying whether or not someone is the object of his obsession. I guess in Hubbard's mind a person dying of thirst would be too bonkers to see if there's any water in a canteen.

Instead, Brown Limper is waiting for a good moment to rush back to his car and grab the Tommy Gun he has stashed there, and then hose down that bundle of humanity that may or may not be his nemesis. But then someone in a radiation suit rushes up to him, grabs Terl's "gift," and tells Staffor to run. Brown Limper recognizes Jonnie's blond beard and orders Lars to open fire!

The neo-Nazi instead bolts for Denver. Whah...whah... whaaaaah.

Only then, belatedly, does Staffor realize that despite the blond beard, the guy in the radiation suit sounded Swedish, which indicates that visual data reaches his brain faster than aural information. But then he does hear Jonnie's voice shouting over the platform. So Brown Limper "tore" his way to his car and "raced" to get his other gun and finish his hated foe once and for all.

Remember how Brown Limper is a club-footed cripple? 'cause L. Ron don't.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, September 20, 2010

Part 24, Chapter 1 - Here We Go Again

It's Day 92, and Terl is "jubilant." He's already thought up a story of heroism in the face of mutiny for his superiors once he goes home, and of course he'll have all those gold- and credit-stuffed coffins to retire on. And then there's that bomb that'll detonate once he's teleported off this rock, erasing all the incriminating evidence and some personal enemies in one fell swoop. Life is good.

You'd think after how horribly, horribly wrong things went for him last year, there might be just a smidgen of uncertainty in the vast expanses of Terl's skull. But nope.

He hauls everything out to the platform and starts wiring the console up. He sets up a three minute firing, then sets his Happy Fun Box to go off six minutes after he's gone. Terl still has an hour to kill, so he goes back to his office and tosses all his paperwork into the recycler machine. I find it vaguely amusing that the sadistic and thoroughly evil Psychlos are eco-friendly. Then Terl puts on his dress uniform and a parade cap before returning to the platform.

There's five hundred Brigantes forming a perimeter outside the "atmosphere cable" force-field thingy that Terl probably wishes he'd used last year. The subhuman soldiers are ordered to use only poisoned bows and knives due to the danger of shooting around an active teleporter. The tribe's off-duty soldiers and women are hanging around the morgue to see the boys off, and I have the sinking feeling that Hubbard is about to wipe them all out in a huge explosion. I hope I'm wrong.

Brown Limper drops by but is, as always, only interested in whether Jonnie's going to show up. Terl assures them that he will, but notices and confiscates the guns Staffor and Lars are carrying. To make up for it, he gives Brown Limper a present: the bomb.

"It's a nice gift," said Terl. "Open it when I'm gone and you'll find the answer to your most golden dreams. Something to remember me by."

At least he showed a bit more restraint with his False Reassurance. Not enough to not be immediately suspicious, mind you, but he's getting better.

Terl checks on one last bit of baggage, a human hostage all tied up with an air mask for passage to Psychlo. Given that last chapter we were told Robert the Fox went missing, I'm not sure what the point is of keeping the prisoner's identify a secret. Then the big stupid alien hits the platforms firing button, and follows up by activating the time bomb... the bomb he gave to Brown Limper? Does he have a remote control, or are there two bombs?

The chapter ends with Terl noticing a figure in a radiation suit leap out of hiding, and even in an all-encompassing environmental suit Terl recognizes Jonnie. He just mentally laughs that "Brown Limper had gotten his Tyler after all" and goes back to thinking about how wonderful it'll be once he's back on Psychlo in three minutes.

Random fact: Terl mentally swears "by the crap nebula" in this chapter. I'm growing increasingly convinced that not only is the crap nebula real, but it's a Psychlo holy site.

Back to Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Nine

Friday, September 17, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 9 - The End of the Middle But Not Quite the Beginning of the End Yet

It's Day 87, less than a week before Terl's scheduled firing. Now that he has his next objective, Jonnie gets ready for his mission. He makes notes of his discoveries and explains things to Angus, who of course doesn't want Jonnie to go but concedes when Jonnie points out that he'll have thirty Scot extras in the background while he saves the day.

He orders a decoy teleportation platform built in Singapore, since Jonnie's operating on the assumption that the "visitors" above are waiting for the next firing to act. It'll take the brunt of any alien attack since overheard chatter indicates that the xenos think the one in Africa is a temple of some sort, thanks to clever use of camouflage netting.

Dr. Allen collects some pyrethrum from plants near Nairobi to act as bug spray and help combat those damned tsetse flies. I'm not sure where this fits in with the whole struggle against the alien invaders, but Hubbard thought it worth mentioning so I'll pass it along.

Stormalong is being left behind to take command of Earth's defenses if Jonnie dies. He doesn't want Jonnie to go either. It's not mentioned that Stormalong is still brooding over the death of Unnamed Swiss Guy, which is a bit of an oversight due to what will happen later.

Ker's over in Africa now, and he actually high-fives Jonnie ("they swatted 'paws'"). He jokes about the worthless currency he was getting paid with, then gives Jonnie the layout of the firing platform. And he doesn't want Jonnie to go either, since he's sure Terl is up to something. He also relates that Sir Robert has disappeared, which worries Jonnie.

Jonnie writes a letter to Chrissie "that he knew the parson would read for her," in case something happens to him. We're not treated to the letter's contents, but we can be certain it was a tear-jerking, majestic proclamation of his undying love for the woman he remembers once every other Part or so. He also writes a will, and I guess there's some humor when he keeps remembering possessions like horses or that chrome AK-47 and has to go back and add to it repeatedly. And once he's finished he checks his gear and packs before settling down for a good night's sleep.

He had done everything he could. Now it was in the hands of the gods. Or a devil like Terl.

I'm confused why everyone is so reluctant to see Jonnie go into danger, when all the evidence suggests that he's a nigh-unstoppable killing machine. He should be the first person you want to have on a raid.

Anyway, tune in next Part when Jonnie and his team of Scots swoop into the American minesite to interfere with Terl's teleportation and stop his attempt to wipe out mankind.


Back to Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Eight

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 8 - I Wonder What the xkcd Guy Would Make of This One

Fortunately, Unnamed Swiss Guy's heroic act of self-sacrifice was not in vain, as the latest discs of surveillance footage show Terl in the act of building a teleportation console. Jonnie thinks that this is the first time "in all of Psychlo's long and sadistic history" that non-Psychlos are watching the process. Apparently none of the other alien races can figure out how to plant a bug as well as Jonnie.

Now, I'm not an electrician. I'm not particularly mechanically-inclined. I'm a political science major with an interest in writing and a love of reading. So maybe I'm not the best person to critique the paragraphs that follow, in which an enthralled Jonnie watches Terl put together some insulating board and resistors and circuitry. It's really boring to me, but maybe an engineer would find it fascinating.

The short version is that Terl's being tricksy with the console circuits. First he builds one that's rigged to blow out, traces an entirely new one on the backside, then uses his alien annealing knife to space-weld this second circuit. In effect, if you "sew" up insulative materials with that tool, you can run a current through the altered material.

I'm not a chemistry major either, so even though this sounds fishy, I guess it could work. You know, if you were using an alien cutter/welder device on some otherworldly material.

So the big revelation is that all the captured Psychlo circuits the alien scientists have been studying and failing to make sense out of are all fakes, and don't make sense with Psychlo mathematics for good reason. And no tests that any of the alien scientists have done in thousands of years have been able to detect this "invisible" second circuit.

Terl then adds a switch that if flipped the wrong way will wipe out the true circuit, but Jonnie can't tell which position it's set to be in for the first firing. And after that he puts in a "magnet fuse" that detects if the console is opened with a magnetic field, which blows out the second circuit as well.

An invisible circuit, two booby traps to wipe it out, a completely false circuit to distract.

And that was the secret of the Psychlos.

Underwhelming, isn't it? And the sad thing is that it's worked for hundreds of thousands of years, with countless alien races working feverishly to crack it. And all Jonnie had to do was install hidden cameras in the right places.

Jonnie makes copies of the footage and diagrams, but he's still got a problem - that one switch that has to be in a certain position in order for the console to not self-destruct. So he'll have to go over and check in person. I guess it's supposed to be dangerous, but this is a guy who can bludgeon bears to death and cut down twenty-eight Brigantes in an afternoon, so I'm sure he'll be fine.

Back to Chapter Seven

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 7 - Not So Much a Dogfight as a Joust

Suddenly, Jonnie is aboard his trusty old Mk32 battle plane, racing along with Stormalong and two other pilots to rescue Glencannon, who fell under attack while en route to deliver the latest Terl footage. It's Day 78, and there's now eighteen alien ships orbiting Earth, and one of them's apparently a Tolnep "plane carrier" that launched the fighters that are harassing Glencannon.

Six more "needle-like craft" are launched by an orbital carrier while Jonnie watches his scopes, but then he spots Glencannon, alone and harried by four bogeys. Stormalong and the two other pilots rip through these pursuers, leaving one alive. So Jonnie changes course to meet the six newcomers head-on in a suicidal maneuver that only works because he's the main character. His spray of firepower kills the leader and he's able to down another enemy when the formation rushes past. He's actually hit on the wing ("touched") by a piece of Tolnep debris, but if you think that'd have some sort of an effect on a high-speed aircraft, you'd be wrong.

Jonnie goes head-to-head again and somehow his "shots stuffed the Tolnep's own fire up his cannon barrels," destroying the ship. I guess it's like those old Looney Tunes where you stick your finger in a shotgun barrel and it blows up in it's wielder's face. Only, you know, with blasters. After taking a hit that darkens half his windshield, Jonnie blows away two more Tolneps without further incident, and then blasts apart the last one as it tries to flee.

Glencannon, meanwhile, is almost at the minesite landing zone, with that one last stubborn Tolnep on his tail. He makes it through before the minesite guards turn the "atmosphere-armor curtain" back on. The Tolnep doesn't.

When Jonnie's on the ground checking on Glencannon, he finds him crying in his cockpit because he was ordered to leave his escort, a Swiss pilot and friend of his, behind. When Unnamed Swiss Guy was shot up and ejected, the aliens blasted him in midair. Jonnie and the others manage to talk Glencannon out of a suicidal attack on the orbiting enemy warships, and Jonnie takes the shipment of Terl discs, hoping that they're worth it.

So yeah, action this chapter. Tedious, suspense-free, meaningless action.

I've read the X-Wing books, which contain plenty of dogfights and ship-to-ship combat, and they're nothing like this. In those stories there's substance to the starfighter battles. You've got the initial terrifying rush as the two sides close on each other and exchange fire, the expanding furball as the combatants chase each other, trying to get behind for a kill-shot (or a missile lock). You've got the hero pilots trying to outsmart their enemy, anticipate which way their target will break, and struggling to slip away from a foe that gets behind them. You've got suspense even when you're following characters that canonically survive the book, because you get to see them looking out for other pilots, their squadmates, and try to keep them alive.

Jonnie on the other hand is just as boringly invincible in the air as he is on the ground. There's no sense of danger, no suspense, or even a sense of accomplishment at the end. We're just being told how many aliens Jonnie blew up that day. It's only exciting in comparison to the chapters we've had to sit through recently.

Back to Chapter Six

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 6 - Logic Bombs

We're back with Jonnie in Africa, where we're informed that Day 92 is "coming up on them like a whirlwind." Oddly enough, "like a whirlwind" is almost the opposite of how I'd describe the last few chapters. I'd say this is more like three in the afternoon on a summer Sunday when there's no wind or clouds, but it thunderstormed all morning, so now it's hot even in the shade and miserably sticky everywhere and the power's still out from downed trees so there's nothing to do inside but you don't want to go outside either, and you spend the rest of the day just staring at nothing as the pointless hours crawl by.

Right now Jonnie's plan is to use the recordings of Terl to build his own control console for the teleporter, which would be easier than trying to steal Terl's console while simultaneously stopping him from detonating his Mystery Fun Box. In the meantime he has to deal with humanity's first defeats in the epic series of skirmishes against the inept and timid alien invaders: an empty ore plane was downed by Hawvins, killing the pilot and copilot, while three Siberians and a Sherpa were slain while hunting near the Russian missile base.

On top of that there's been a setback in defending Edinburgh - the "atmospheric cable" that creates the definitely-not-a-force-field needs a lot of power, but the only power plant nearby is a tidal dam in Bristol, which would leave a long and highly vulnerable target leading up to Scotland's capital. This forces the humans to rely solely on antiaircraft weapons. Meanwhile I'm wondering why the Psychlos kept miles and miles of unused force field components instead of installing them around their bases.

Then there's the chapter's Terl Update. He's churned out "reams of mathematics" which nobody else can make any sense of, and is now working on lots and lots of fuses. Jonnie has a breakthrough when he notices that the materials Terl is working with are identical to the doodads implanted in Psychlo skulls. The aliens have fuses in their brains. I'll let Jonnie explain it.

"All right. Mathematics is logical thought! It is the approximation of being sensible! Now even if a Psychlo has a soul and does his thinking with a soul, or even if he doesn't have, mental action works between those two channels [in the brain].

So long as a Psychlo is thinking logically, there is a constant current between those two nerves. Even asleep there would be a current, a very slight one.

Now up comes an alien. The Psychlo knows his whole race and empire depends upon keeping his mathematics a secret. And the alien wants to know about Psychlo mathematics. The Psychlo instantly shuts off thinking about them. Or a surge occurs and then a shutoff. Pop. Blown fuse!"

...Which occurs when the silver capsule that's regulating logical thought sends the brone thingy that regulates pain and pleasure into a short circuit, driving the Psychlo to violence until he either kills the inquiring alien or himself. Oh, and since Psychlos' moral code restricts them from teaching those "illogical" females any math, when Chirk or some other alien bimbo tries to think about math their silver implant blows, but since they have no bronze implant they just go into a coma instead of a homicidal rage.

But yeah, that's the mechanics of Psychlo mind control. A total load of crap. Logical thought during sleep. Every last Psychlo apparently thinking about math until they see an alien and abruptly stopping, triggering their implants. No Psychlo being willing to sell out their empire and voluntarily discussing math with another species. Kerbango and other intoxicants somehow failing to interrupt this logical thought and thereby triggering the implants. All logical thought passing through a specific nerve bundle in the Psychlo brain. A device that is able to detect when you're thinking about math.

Stupid, but par the course.

And for the moment this revelation is pointless, since the self-proclaimed doctor MacKendrick hasn't perfected the operation to extract the troublesome devices from Psychlo noggins. And so the chapter ends.

Does figuring out Psychlo mind control count as something happening? I mean, Jonnie didn't do anything, but he thought something and then told someone about it. That's kinda like action, right? And there was implied action in the form of aliens shooting up some humans.

Oh hey, looking ahead there's a dogfight in the next chapter. That'll be a refreshing change of pace.

Back to Chapter Five

Monday, September 13, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 5 - And Ker Keeps Borrowing My Stapler

And now for a Terl chapter. Our chief antagonist is becoming crankier and more paranoid than usual.

First, as "acting head" of the Intergalactic Mining Company he had to sign some contracts as collator for Brown Limper's attempts to build a castle, resulting in fifteen copies of incriminating documents that would condemn him to a painful death if Psychlo ever got hold of them (which is a very moot point).

Terl comforts himself by shredding his copies of the paperwork, then packing his paycheck in coffins marked "radioactive killed" for later recovery on... wow, déjà vu. Anyway, during this he notices that one of the coffins he was about to use has disappeared, which leads to Terl discovering how cadets are buying the coffins off the Brigante guards with whiskey, then melting the lead down into gamepieces. Furthermore, most of the storehouses at the old Psychlo base are nearly empty after months of looting, salvage, and petty theft.

And then Terl goes to harangue Ker for letting the cadets park their trainer machines just anywhere, before realizing that he needs an ally and offering Ker a big fat paycheck for helping Terl get to Psychlo. He also orders five hundred extra Brigante guards for his firing platform, but finds them sprawled out and drunk a few nights later. Oh, and he privately decides that Brown Limper's incompetence is going to botch his plan, but takes comfort in the knowledge that the box he's building will solve all his Earth-based problems.

To summarize, in this chapter Terl did paperwork, complained about office theft, and belittled his coworkers. But he's still holding onto the dream of recovering his treasure-laden coffins on Psychlo and becoming powerful.

He spread his bedding out on top of the coffins and slept a beautiful sleep with beautiful dreams where royalty bowed when they met The Great Terl on the street. And all evidence and this planet would have been totally destroyed behind him.

It's not just that nothing interesting is happening, it's that and the fact that some things are happening again.

Back to Chapter Four

Friday, September 10, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 4 - War Economics

...I mean, were the limpet mines Psychlo leftovers? I guess if you're teleporting to and from a planet rather than using traditional space flight to reach it having a permanent orbital minefield would work as a defensive option, unless you considered the staggering number of mines needed to envelop the planet. But then the mines would already been in orbit, wouldn't they? So why was there a stockpile in a warehouse somewhere? Were they planning to put them up if they saw an enemy ship coming, and praying that the invaders would blunder into the tiny patch of space seeded with explosives?

What's sad is that the whole mines thing is just a throwaway line in one paragraph to explain why the aliens haven't blown up the humans' spaceship, and will, if memory serves, have absolutely no effect on the plot as a whole. But it's so staggeringly moronic that I keep lingering on it.

The spaceship the Gray Man was watching was carrying Stormalong, who returns to Jonnie and reports that he's collected another fifty-five tons of salvaged material from orbit. So apparently it's a big little dingy. The cargo is dumped in a Psychlo metal pulverizer that "break[s] down its molecular cohesion and then let it go through armored rollers that really tore it apart and smashed it." The result is a fine powder that's taken to the "meteorite powder washing area" where four Psychlo females mix it with mercury.

The reason for all this is simple: what they're collecting from orbit isn't satellites but meteorites. Well, they're called meteorites, but since they haven't survived impact with the Earth's surface they're more properly meteoroids, but given the level of scientific accuracy encountered so far this isn't even worth complaining about. Anyway, these space rocks originate from outside the solar system and contain traces of an unknown element. What the lady Psychlos are doing is equivalent to panning for gold, sloshing the powder around until this mystery element settles to the bottom of the pan.

You see, Angus has been at work reproducing Terl's efforts towards his Mystery Fun Box, and has put what Stormalong's been collecting to good use. They now have six doomsday devices that they don't know the capabilities of, and with the latest haul will be able to make two more.

So Jonnie's got the capability to destroy Psychlo (again), but no delivery system. He's still in a good mood, which is reinforced by a letter from Colonel Ivan telling Jonnie that his former neighbors are doing well in Russia, and accompanied by some AK-47 ammo filled with thermite powder for use against Tolneps. He even goes to chat with one of the Hockner prisoners, who tells Jonnie that the Psychlo vehicles are imported from other races - or rather the hulls and machinery are foreign-made, while only the raw materials and technical equipment such as engines or control consoles are provided by the Psychlos.

This is mind-boggling.

So the Psychlos have multiple universes in their furry grasp. Countless alien races have warred with them only to suffer defeat after defeat (allegedly) at the hands of their (allegedly) invincible war machines. They use their hegemony to strip worlds of their resources... but not to fuel their mighty war factories, no. They export their mineral wealth. To their enemies. Who then help build the vehicles the Psychlos use against them. And, of course, these vehicles are all "useless" without the Psychlo-made control console, so all the other aliens can do is sell them to their oppressors and await the day their handiwork kills them.

Why? Why why why? Why are you selling your resources only to buy them back as finished product from a foreign factory? This is how third-world countries stay third-world countries! And why would you build war machines for your enemy?! It's like the Soviets outsourcing Kalashnikov production to the United States!

This confirms it. Every other species in existence is too dumb to live.

Jonnie asks about Psychlo mathematics, and the Hockner just gives a neighing laugh and says that in 302,000 years "every wizard brain in the universe" has been trying and failing to figure out why Psychlo equations don't balance, thus ensuring that in the next couple of months Jonnie will crack the mystery.

At least I'm not obsessing over the mines now.

Back to Chapter Three

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 3 - Minefields in Space are Stupid

Nothing's happening. Jonnie's throwing rocks at crocodiles because he can't crack teleportation, Brown Limper's kicking a tombstone because he can't find Jonnie, and in this chapter the Gray Man looks down on Earth and recaps what little transpired over the past month.

The alien coalition is reduced to watching a human spaceship, the converted orbital miner, collect old satellites and space debris. Half-Captain Snowl tried to intercept it one day but ran into a bunch of limpet mines, whose "atmosphere pressure fuses" would explode if they came within a hundred thousand feet of Earth's surface.

It's unclear what's going on here: one paragraph states that "The terrestrial craft had apparently mined the orbit they used," while the commanders are convinced that the human ship is dropping mines behind it as it flees. It certainly isn't explained in another chapter anytime soon, but either situation is stupid.

The first scenario involves the humans scattering an untold number of mines above the planet. Even if we take the word "orbit" to mean a narrow path circling the planet instead of a certain altitude - which would imply that the humans are only salvaging satellites from a very limited area - the number of devices needed to mine it is mind-boggling. The Korean DMZ has over a million landmines in it, and it's only 150 miles long. The Earth's circumference is close to 25,000 miles. So to mine the equator we'd need close to four billion landmines, and that's at sea level.
And the end result would be a band of explosives that enemy spaceships could simply go around, over, or under.

The marginally more reasonable situation is that the orbital miner has a payload of mines to dump behind it in case of combat, but this is still dumb. It implies that:
  1. A resource harvester is devoting a huge portion of its cargo space for a one-shot weapon system that works only if the enemy is dumb enough to fly into it, instead of lasers or something.
  2. Half-Captain Snowl was dumb enough to fly into a minefield, or
  3. Half-Captain Snowl's super-advanced spaceship lacks the sensors to detect a minefield
  4. Half-Captain Snowl's super-advanced spaceship lacks long-ranged combat capability, and is forced to tailgate in order to have any chance of hitting a target
  5. The aliens are once again attacking the humans piecemeal instead of using group tactics, such as intercepting or flanking the mind-laying craft and avoiding its weapons entirely
  6. The super-advanced aliens have yet to devise counter-measures against limpet mines

In any event, there is one very important question: where the hell did the humans find all those mines?

But yeah, that's one development. Another one is that the Gray Man's indigestion is acting up again, and he went back to that old lady for more peppermint, and she had even made him a sweater. This prompted him to advise the other aliens that Scotland was "politically inadvisable" to operate in, but when he went back to the old lady again later, her house was boarded up and empty. He's still wearing the sweater as he watches the planet, feeling troubled.

We're up to a whopping thirteen alien craft orbiting Earth now as more races continue the search for the one, which has a hundred-million-credit prize offered (by who?!) for the crew who finds it. Still no word from that messenger over if Earth is indeed the one. In the meanwhile, the aliens have sighted some saffron-robed figures moving around in all the major bases, noticed new pagodas going up, and keep hearing a strange language on the radios that's always preceded by "Om mani padme om" (note that Hubbard got the mantra wrong). The conclusion is that the planet has been swept by religious upheaval.

Naturally, thirteen spaceships in the countless miles of space around the planet counts as "crowded."

Back to Chapter Two

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 2 - Hitlerpoleon? Napler?

So Terl's working on this bomb of his, and the other aliens are continuing to make the Psychlo military look competent, which leaves us with one last villain to check on: Brown Limper Staffor. Our diabolical cripple is admiring the new bank notes, which feature his profile instead of Jonnie's.

And here it gets stupid.

After trying a lot of poses to little success, Lars suggested a makeover was in order, and convinced Brown Limper to shave his beard and mustache - save for a little tuft under the nose. It gets better: Staffor wanted a uniform, so some thousand-year-old gray cloth was cut into a "chauffer's uniform," adorned with colored glass "medals," and worn with Staffor's fingers tucked under the edge specifically to imitate the great leader of men, Napoleon. And that's what ended up on the new 100 American Credits note.

To recap: Hitler 'stache + knock-off Napoleon outfit and pose = Brown Limper Staffor.

The question is not whether this makes Brown Limper a pathetic and lame villain, the question is why. Is this a conscious effort on Hubbard's part to show how petty and hopeless Staffor is? Even compared to Terl, Staffor comes across as a joke antagonist. Is he supposed to be comic relief of sorts? A "breather" villain between the deviousness of Terl and the relentlessness of the alien invaders? A sad imitation of his Psychlo "mentor?" Or is Brown Limper supposed to symbolize everything wrong with human leaders, and the Hitler reference is simply Hubbard abandoning anything resembling subtlety?

I don't have the answers, but I do have a headache.

Elation over the new bank notes aside, Brown Limper is finding his job as planetary ruler a lonely one. Jonnie escaped the trap and ran off to places unknown. None of the tribal chiefs are talking to Staffor anymore. The world capital is steadily dwindling in population, and it's mainly him, Lars, Terl, and the Brigantes now. The Academy students are keeping to themselves, and all the office equipment is breaking down.

On a whim, Staffor has Lars fly him and General Snith to the Village of the Idiots to show his tribe the new currency, but all he finds are empty houses and a letter from Tom Smiley Townsen explaining that they all moved to Tashkent (and that he's marrying a Latin girl). Staffor pokes around the formerly-boobytrapped Tyler residence and finds a partially-exploded house and the wolf-eaten remains of two Brigantes. The general explains "Mus hab come oop here browling fer loot!" and that it's a "Waste of good meat!" Yes, the Briagantes, after setting the traps in the house, were stupid enough to try to rob it.

Lonely violins play as Brown Limper walks through the snow to the old graveyard.

Something had been nagging at him and now it hit him.

He was a tribal leader without a tribe.

Ye olde "it's lonely at the top" and "don't alienate people during your climb to power" moral. Y'know, in case you somehow missed being taught that lesson during your childhood.

He's immediately distracted by a new monument, dedicated to Timothy Brave Tyler by "His Loving Son J. G. T." Brown Limper flies into a rage, tries and fails to kick the tombstone over, and reaffirms his vow to kill Jonnie.

Random fact for this chapter: during the search to get Staffor a uniform they dug up a lot of coffins, but couldn't find anything. Days later, two Brigantes died of formaldehyde poisoning.

Back to Chapter One

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 1 - Schrödinger's Tank

The chapter opens with Jonnie channeling Zzt by thinking "Damn Terl!" every few paragraphs or so. I miss Zzt. He was fun.

The new deadline hanging over everything is Day 92 (again), the day Terl's going to try his shenanigans with the teleporter rig. Jonnie is catching up on the surveillance footage of Terl working, in which Terl's running around outside measuring distances for something that is definitely not a teleportation platform. Jonnie deduces that Terl's trying to calculate how close something indicated on his blueprints by a squiggly line can be to the teleporter without interfering.

An explanation comes in a letter from Ker, full of "ha, ha, ha!"s and a sample of what he calls an "atmosphere-armor ionization cable," which causes "molecular cohesion" among "air molecules to make "an invisible curtain wall" that's impermeable to things such as bullets. In other words, the force field at the Africa platform from a few chapters ago. This is not to be confused with a "force screen" such as those used around Hawvin spaceships, of course, though no explanation is offered to how those work, the differences between it and "air armor," or how exactly an electrical charge turns a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen into something diamond-hard in the first place.

So Jonnie's big plan of letting Terl build his teleportation platform, then swooping in and stealing it, is shot to pieces because Terl was smart enough to include a defensive system around it (but not, of course, the main platform in Colorado). He can't ask any other Psychlos for help without them going into a coma or attacking him, those implants can't be removed without killing the aliens, and without teleportation Jonnie has no idea how he's going to defend the planet.

Damn that Terl! Forcing our hero to think and adapt his plans!

Jonnie goes to an old Basher tank intending to take apart its moronic teleportation-based engine to see if he can reverse-engineer some knowledge from it. But he's interrupted by a Tolnep captive, Double-Ensign Slitheter Pliss, and his guards. Pluss is apparently trying to curry favor with his captives by providing information about his spaceship and sonic weapon. He chats with a taciturn Jonnie, and remarks that in 302,000 years of capturing Psychlo books and equipment (including a complete teleportation rig) and interrogating Psychlo prisoners, nobody's cracked the secrets of teleportation. Pliss sarcastically wishes Jonnie good luck, then asks for a metal sample to snack on.

After he leaves, Jonnie discovers that the act of unscrewing the tank's control console to look inside has somehow killed it, even if he replaces everything. Frustrated, he goes and throws rocks at crocodiles until he feels guilty, then randomly asks a messenger if he'd like to shoot a Psychlo, and we can only hope he's joking.

Animal cruelty: bad. Executing prisoners out of spite: okay.

And with one more heartfelt assurance that Earth is doomed without the secret of teleportation, despite the pathetic track record of the alien invaders so far, the chapter ends.

Oh, and added to the captive alien menagerie are three Jambitchow captives, some "evil-looking brutes" dumb enough to charge at a mannequin dressed as a Chinese on top of a concealed net. And also dumb enough to only send three people in their scouting party, though that sadly seems to be a universal trait amongst xeno races. Figuring out the dietary requirements of all these profoundly stupid aliens is proving tricky.

This information is just kinda randomly dropped in the middle of the chapter, so I moved it to the end because the summary flows somewhat better this way.

Back to Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Five