Monday, December 20, 2010

Part 32, Chapter 5 - It's Possible to Like Mining Too Much

Soth gives Jonnie a crash course on mathematics, discussing the Chatovarian binary system and others centered on integers from three to twenty, but he admits that the decimal or "base ten" system is the best. "Whenever they discover it one some planet they engrave the discoverer's name among the heroes." So of course the Psychlos use base eleven.

Then he goes through the Psychlo numerals, explaining that they were originally pictographs. This is too good to summarize, so:

"Zero is an empty mouth; see the teeth? One is a claw; just one talon. Two is a being and a pick. Three is a being, a shovel and a rock. Four is a mine cart; see the four corners? Five is what we call the 'off' paw, the one with six claws. Seven is an ore chute. Eight is a pot smelter; see the smokestack and the smoke? Nine is a pile of metal ingots like a pyramid; nine of them originally; but now just the pyramid. Ten is a lightning bolt; symbol of power, now just a slash. Eleven is two claws clasped; that represents contentment.

"It's a little moral lesson, you see. If you dig and smelt ore, it lifts you from starvation to power and contentment."

Where to start...

First, this is probably the most effort Hubbard has put into fleshing out the Psychlos in a way that isn't plot-required. He's given us the bare bones of history, jack squat about their beliefs or mythology, but suddenly a whole paragraph about the reasoning behind their number design. Twenty pages before the book ends.

Second, Buddha on a pogo stick, MORE MINING. The magpie-like obsession with gathering minerals was one thing, and the city built like a mining base with minecart-styled public transportation was just sad, but now it's getting stupid. Like nothing the Psychlos came up with could compare to the importance of digging for shiny rocks in their collective psyche.

Can you imagine a whole culture focused on the primacy of pottery? An intergalactic empire seeking out new sources of mud and clay to make storage and artwork from? Glazed buildings? Ceramic buses? How about a civilization based around basket-weaving, or simple agriculture, or mammoth hunts?

Third, the alphabet suggests that the Psychlos got around to making a written language long after learning how to smelt ore into ingots.

Jonnie is amused by the Psychlo numbers, but presses on and asks about Psychlo force equations. Soth surmises that the human is after teleportation formulas, and after bargaining for a lifetime supply of food and breathe-gas, as well as private housing and access to compound books and tools, explains that some cryptography is involved - letters on the equations have a numerical value based on how the Psychlo numbers match up with the alphabet, as well as some stuff about the eleven gates around the Imperial Palace, each of which have their own name. So math + codes + ciphers + headache + disinterest + antipathy = the resolution to Battlefield Earth's last real plot point.

...Or is it? After four pages of lecturing, Soth admits that "all this will be of limited use to you." Oh no! Will Jonnie ever figure out the secrets of alien technology? Will he ever build those ridiculous teleportation engines? What a cliffhanger to end the chapter on!

Back to Chapter Four


  1. If you have symbols 0 through 11, you are in fact on base 12, not 11. Base 10 has symbols 0 through 9, etc.

    So that's another huge fail.

  2. The funny thing I found with this part is that for most of the book, Hubbard managed to correctly use a theoretical base-11 numerical system, even going to great lengths explaining that "one-zero" wasn't "ten" but "eleven".

    Then in this chapter, he actually places a symbol for eleven, something that you can't have in a base-11 system. But then it isn't the only thing on which he contradicts stuff already established earlier in the book.