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

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