Friday, December 30, 2011

Part Fourteen, Chapter Two - The Healing Power of Song

Heller reaches the bus station and finds a black man tidying up the place.  Well, I say "black man," but Hubbard prefers "the black."  Not a black man, not a black person, just a skin tone.  Even when discussing the lesser races of the Voltarian Confederacy, the narration was nice enough to call them a "yellow-man" or the like.  No such courtesy here. 

Not even half a page in and I hate this chapter.

"The black" comments on the still-blazing courthouse fire, and Heller agrees that it's "purty big."  "The black" asks where Heller's going, and rattles off a list of possible destinations.  Heller perks up at the mention of Atlanta due to that whole Prince Caucalsia headache.

"Oh, that's a fahn town," the black said.  "Plenty white ladies, yallah ladies, black ladies.  Any coluh you got a wishin' fo'.  A real fahn town.  Or maybe you'd lahk Buhmin'ham.  Now that is the fahnes' town you evuh hope to see, man."

Heller tells "the black" that he's heading towards New York, and learns that the next bus will come around midnight, in about an hour.  Then "the black" continues sweeping, and unexpectedly bursts into song.

Hark to the story of Willie the Weeper, 
Willie the Weeper was a chimney sweeper.
He had the hop habit and he had it bad.
Oh listen while I tell you 'bout the dream he had!

Notice what's missing?  Somehow crooning an old Louis Armstrong number cured him of his unplaceable mouth-mangling accent.

After four verses, "the black"'s musical number is interrupted by two policemen hauling a frantic woman into the bus station.

Tears were cascading down her cheeks.  Perspiration beaded her forehead.  She was probably only about twenty-five but she looked thirty-five--deep bags under her eyes.  Except for that, she was not unpretty.

The woman's putting up quite a fight, but the burly cops are determined to run "Horsey Mary Schmeck" out of town on the next bus.  Mary protests that their "(bleeped) chief wasn't talking that way when he got out of my bed last week!", and that one of the cops sold her a "nickel-bag" recently, but the officers reply that the situation has changed - a "Fed narco" has moved into the area as is running out the opposition, like the drug-using prostitute Mary, until he gets his share of the drug money.  Mary pleads for one last fix before she goes, but the cops tell her that the whole district is out of the "big H."

I never knew rural Virgina was dominated by the heroin trade.  Maybe it's really cleaned up since the 80's.

Mary collapses into a pile of despair and withdrawal symptoms.  The cops take her purse for fare money and help themselves to the rest (to buy drugs with, of course), punching her in the jaw when she protests.  But Heller objects to this level of police brutality and demands that the cops give the nice lady her money back.  And so we get another tepid fight scene, in which Heller kung-fu's the crap out of the pair of lawmen, breaking bones and sending their guns flying out the doors of the bus station.

Heller hands Mary her money, but the girl urges him to flee, since one of the downed officers is the sheriff's son.  She pulls him after her as she runs to a place they can get a car.  And now, for the chapter punchline:

The black man was looking down at the smashed cops.  "An' Ah jus' cleaned the flooah," he said sadly.

Chapters without anyone commenting on Heller's stupid clothes: 2.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Part Fourteen, Chapter One - A White-Man Thing

Gris, through the magic of HellerVision, watches the story's hero struggle along on his doomed mission from the comfort of his Turkish villa.  He plods up the road in his ridiculous and undersized outfit, and as he passes a house gets struck by a Random Encounter (Table 8-B, Temperate, Rural).  Bam, angry dog outta nowhere.  The sheepdog lunges, Heller grabs it by the jowls, and hurls it twenty feet to hit a tree headfirst.

Astonishingly this just knocks the pooch unconscious, and Heller picks up his fallen foe and knocks on the door of the house, explaining to the farmers inside that their animal ran into a tree.  Editor Robert Vaughn Young wrote of Hubbard's attempts at recreating the Southern accent, and now we get to finally see it.

"You f'um heahabouts, kid?"

"Heahabouts," said Heller.  "Ah'll be gittin' on now."

"Hell, no.  Not aftah you done a white-man thing lahk that!  Martha, bring some cawfee in heah!" he yelled towards the kitchen.

"Aw, no," said Heller.  "Ah be much obliged.  But Ah got me an appointment in town.  A fellah's a-waitin' foah me at th' co'thouse.  Ah'm much obliged but Ah be late awready."

"Well, hell, kid, tha's more'n two mile.  An' you limpin' an' all.  Be downright unneighbo'ly of me not to run you intah town!  Ah'll git mah truck!"

I panicked and flipped ahead to see if the rest of the book was like this, but thankfully it looks like people start talking normally again in a few chapters.  I'm not sure I could keep going otherwise.  Now I live in Tennessee, have family in Mississippi, and have traveled from Florida to Virginia, but I've never heard an accent quite like this.  Sometimes they can say their l's, sometimes they can't.  Some e's are pronounceable, others are dropped.  It's a random, mangled dialect designed to make its speakers sound as stupid as possible.

Well, Heller gets his lift to the courthouse, where the I'm-not-crooked clerk is there to issue "Delbert John Rockecenter Jr."'s birth certificate for a mere two hundred bucks.  He gets the papers, thanks the man, and walks out of the courthouse, which promptly explodes.

Did I forget to mention that those Apparatus advance agents from last chapter planted a bomb to take care of their contact?  Well, they planted a bomb to take care of their contact.  A highly-noticeable bomb, rather than a discreet disappearance with a forged suicide note or something, because these are professional secret agents.

Because Heller is the hero, he immediately drops his stuff and rushes back into the inferno and rescues the clerk, who groggily mutters about a faulty stove causing the detonation.  He thanks Heller for saving his life but advises him that "with a name lahk yoahs" he'd better clear out before the authorities arrive.  But the clerk adds that if Heller ever needs help, "you jus' yell fo' Stonewall Biggs!"

Heller watches the fire trucks swoop in and jots down a note: They can't make stoves.  Laugh at the humor or boggle at his sudden conclusion on the status of Earth engineering, take your pick.

Note that nobody in the chapter does a double take at or comments on Heller's bizarre attire.  Hubbard went into great detail about how stupid he was dressed, and how it would surely make him an immediate attention magnet, and then promptly forgot about it.

Back to Part Thirteen, Chapter Six

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter Six - So Long, Turkey

Gris assures us that the prospect of owning a sex slave did not distract him at all the day before liftoff, and he was able to perform his duties with enough attention that he even found time to make a servant boy throw up again.  Heller, on the other hand, spends the day making candy, peppermints if the description is accurate.  Gris is dismissive of Heller's preparations and stops paying attention, which leads me to suspect that it's not candy at all and will later become a plot point.

They load up and take off at nightfall, then take a leisurely pace to follow the line of darkness creeping over the planet, so that they arrive at their destination at the same time of day that they left.  The landing zone is a deserted Virginia plantation, which they secure by bombarding with a quick burst from a paralysis beam of some sort.  Then crewmen jump out and quickly sweep the area with heat-detecting sensors.  As opposed to the ship using its sensors to see if there's any danger before landing.  Nope, it's fly over, paralyze what's immediately under you, and land before actually looking around.

After discovering that they stunned an opossum, Raht and Terb, a pair of bland Apparatus agents already inserted into America, arrive with suitcases full of clothes and papers for Heller.  While he goes back inside the tug to get dressed, Gris debriefs his underlings - they've got a military school diploma bought from a crooked teacher, and a birth certificate that needs signing in person because the crooked clerk doesn't think he's crooked.  They report that all the clothes and luggage are thoroughly bugged, but Gris orders them to take that 831 Relayer and stay within two hundred miles of Heller at all times, as part of an extra-special bugging.

And then Heller emerges, dressed in what the agents gave him.

Raht had done a wonderful job. The jacket was LOUD! Huge red and white checks. The pants were LOUD! Huge blue and white stripes. The hat was a bright green, banded Panama: too small! The shoes were orange suede and too tight! The shirt was purple!

He would stand out like a searchlight!

Mission Earth, where obnoxious outfits are described with more care than 90% of the cast.

It's time to divvy up money - Raht and Terb need some extra cash to counteract "inflation," while Heller's under orders to be given five thousand bucks in order to look affluent.  Gris gives him two thousand and happily notes that he's made a decent profit that night.  Heller has a letter Gris wants to deliver as a favor, since he promised "to keep him informed."  Gris doesn't bother to waste a thought on it before pocketing the thing, again convincing me of the letter's importance.

And then it's goodbyes.  Gris wishes Heller good luck while mentally exulting that he'll surely end up in jail within hours, the ship's crew use a special device that repairs grass to erase signs that a spaceship landed on it (God forbid the physics-breaking vehicle hover), and then Heller is on his own.  As the tug races back to Turkey before dawn there, the captain brings up how Heller removed the ship's time-sight and generally locked things up in his absence so they can't leave the planet.  Gris, concerned about being blown up by Apparatus Not-Assassins, gives it little thought, almost guaranteeing that it will become a vital plot point, possibly leading him to frantically save Heller so he can repair the ship and flee the planet.

With that, the Part comes to a close.  Looks like we're done with Turkey, at least until that dancing girl shows up.  Time to see what Hubbard thinks of rural Virginia.

I'm having another "why is this even happening?" moment.  So the Apparatus has a plan for Earth and doesn't want the Voltarian government involved, fine.  So they're going to manipulate the appointed agent sent to Earth so that he can't alert the government, right.  They'll forge his reports, that sort of thing.  Meanwhile they're trying to set up the agent to fail, imprisoned or killed by the Earthlings.  But since that would presumably make the government send another agent, they'll be keeping the agent's status secret.

So.  Take Heller to Earth, shoot him in the head, toss the body in the disintigrator, and forge reports telling an elaborate story of slow and painstaking progress, stalling the Voltarian government until the Apparatus coup is ready.  Or hell, put Heller on the ship to Earth and shoot him there.

The point is, this plot is entirely unnecessary and only occurs because the Apparatus has decided to achieve its objective of neutralizing Heller in a roundabout way instead of through much simpler, safer and successful options.  Kinda like how Battlefield Earth only happened because the Psychlos were too stingy to bring a hazardous-environment drone miner to Earth, necessitating human miners for Terl's scheme.

So I guess stupidity is the underlying ingredient of Hubbard's stories.  It's necessary to support the stories' premises, and a critical aspect of all the villains.

Back to Part Thirteen, Chapter Five

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter Five - Genuine Imported Turkish Belly Dancers, Only $5,000 + S&H

Not much happens in this chapter other than Gris purchasing a sex slave.

Karagoz informs Gris that he has a visitor, who turns out to be none other than the nameless cab driver who failed to deliver his dancing girl.  Gris is ready to murder the insolent twerp, but Nameless Driver explains that the girl he picked up turned out to have "(bleep) and (bleep) both," making it very lucky that he sent her back to Istanbul.  Then he gets all conspiratorial, lowering his voice and looking around for eavesdroppers before revealing that he has a line on a real dancing girl for Gris' pleasure.

The Soviets, you see, are forcing the nomadic people of modern-day Turkmenistan onto collective farms, and some of the women - ethnically and culturally Turkish, since this is evidently very important - have decided to avoid a horrible fate on a Soviet commune by selling their bodies on the free market.  And some of these women, Nameless Driver goes on, are the "absolute cream of all Turkish dancers!"

"And they're also experts at . . . well . . . you know."

He came even closer.  "They're virgins because the tribal customs won't have it otherwise.  So there's no danger of you know what."

This may be the stupidest thing I've ever read.  From Mission Earth.  This week.  It's like suggesting that someone who has never held a wrench or gotten under a car is nevertheless a master mechanic.  And Gris, of course, is on the edge of his seat.

Nameless Driver explains how these virginal sex goddesses have to be smuggled across the Iron Curtain at considerable expense, but produces a photograph to keep Gris interested.  He falls in love at first sight of the girl's full lips, heart-shaped face, huge eyes, and shy expression.  Her name is Utanc, Turkish for "modesty" or "bashfulness."  Or "shame."  That one feels like it could be important.

An emotion very foreign to me welled up.  An absolute passion to protect her welled up in me.  I felt I should charge at once over the border, slay the whole Russian Army, cast myself at her feet and beg for just one smile.

Not that he intends to stop at just one smile, of course.  Gris eagerly hands over five thousand dollars American and an additional five hundred for transportation costs.  Nameless Driver gladly takes the money, assuring his customer of the wisdom of his purchase.

"You'd own her completely," whispered the driver.  "She would be your slave forever.  And saving her from the raping Russian troops would earn her gratitude to such a degree, she would never be able to thank you enough!"

So.  We've got non-evil sentiments awakening within Gris, unfamiliar feelings of protectiveness and chivalry towards a damsel in distress.  These are triggered by his purchase of said person to serve as his sex toy, regardless of her feelings on the matter.

Pretty twisted, Hubbard.  And as always the question is of intent - is Hubbard trying to convey just how sick a person Gris is, that the closest thing he can feel to love is triggered by greed and lust? Or, to be much more cynical and hostile towards the author, is this simply how Hubbard thinks relationships work?  Or does he assume that we'd find this sequence heartwarming or something?

I don't know.  I'm tired.  There's something exhausting about Mission Earth.  It's not that I'm shocked by what's going on - I've read worse stories, both in terms of writing ability and in the actions of the characters.  I've read books where the villains do some pretty villainous things.  But there were heroes to contrast with the villains, moments of goodness and respite from the bad stuff.

Mission Earth just has an all-pervading, constant emanation of evil from it.  We're stuck with Gris as our viewpoint character, and when he's not outright murdering people or throwing prostitutes into prison cells or giving away poisoned food or trying to get people killed with counterfeit money, he's kicking the boy servant or terrorizing his underlings or just plain being a douchebag.  It never ends.  Except for the bits with Heller, but those are problematic because he's so obnoxiously perfect and his wonderfulness is constantly shoved down our throats.  There's nobody to like, no one to root for, no one acting decent who isn't Hubbard's Marty Stu.

So this chapter?  Yes, it's badly written.  Yes, it's offensive (intentionally so, I think, as opposed to parts where Hubbard's sexism or racism ruins a scene).  And it's also pretty much par the course.  We've seen worse in the past - at least nobody died this time - and there's worse to come.  Eight books' worth, in fact.

Well, Nameless Driver, who totally isn't scamming Gris at all, assures him that Utanc will arrive in one week.  That night Gris dreams "beautiful dreams" with the girl's photograph on his pillow.  I'm grateful that he doesn't go into specifics.

At least in Battlefield Earth we didn't have to deal with Terl's sex drive.  Nope, he was a professional Stupid Hubbard Villain, concerned with gold and only gold.  No leering at the captive females, no on-screen shenanigans with Psychlo secretaries.  It takes a book like Mission Earth to make me miss Battlefield Earth.

Back to Chapter Four

Monday, December 26, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter Four - Hands of Red, Ow My Head

Have you forgotten that Soltan Gris is an ass?

Here's a quick reminder: the day after coming up with his Mob Hospital scam, after a full morning spent kicking a boy trying to fan him cool, Gris hears a canary and immediately goes for his shotgun.  But once back in his room he spies something that wasn't there before - a glittery envelope of Voltarian make, containing a "sorry I missed you" greeting card.  The message inside is simple: "Lombar wanted me to remind you now and then," signed as it were with a drawing of a "dagger!  A dagger with blood on it!  A dagger with blood on it that was dripping!"

Faced with this Voltarian object alluding to a Voltarian agent, Gris immediately starts going through a list of suspects, including Melahat and Karagoz of the serving staff, and Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty.

Have you forgotten that Soltan Gris is an idiot?

A thoroughly spooked Gris runs into the hangar in search of an ally against this new threat, only to find two new aircraft landed nearby, two-person ships of similar make to Lombar Hisst's "flying gun" model.  Since they're only a bit faster than normal freighters, Gris concludes that Hisst must have dispatched them to Earth immediately upon learning of the purchase of Tug One.  And then the ship's pilots pop up behind Gris, cold, professional killers led by a "slate-hard man with slate-hard eyes."

He recognizes their uniforms as those of the Apparatus' "Assassins."  Contrary to their name, these fellas do not sneak into enemy positions and murder targets of strategic value.  Instead they hang behind the Apparatus lines during a battle and blow apart anyone who tries to flee.  So they're something like a Soviet Commissar, in other words.  Or more accurately the Soviet Commissar as remembered by Warhammer 40,000.

Anyway, the black-uniformed and red-gloved gentlemen express their disapproval that the Prince Caucalsia doesn't have "call-in beamer" on it allowing an "Assassin" ship to easily track and destroy it.  No, despite being worked on in an Apparatus hangar, the former Tug One never had anything like that installed.  No, none of the Apparatus agents who snuck equipment aboard the ship thought to include a call-in beamer.  No, the "Assassin" ships don't have any sort of sophisticated sensor package that would render a call-in beamer obsolete.  No, nobody thought to render the "Assassins" obsolete by replacing the call-in beamer with a remote-controlled bomb.

The "Assassins" order Gris to get such a device installed, and also to sabotage the Prince Caucalsia's mind-shattering time-based engines so it can't outrun Apparatus justice.  Gris tries to pull rank and claims that he doesn't have to answer to their orders, while they make the same statement.  In the end he left his weapons in his room, so he agrees and tries to shake hands - an Assassin slaps him across the face instead.  Yay.

So Gris gets to distract Heller with geological surveys of the United States while the work crews do their thing aboard the spaceship.  He also goes over the landing zone (Fair Oakes, VA) and mission plan (take this road to Lynchberg, then through Washington D.C. to New York and...).

Well, that's really about it.  Gris isn't counting on Heller being active for much longer, as he's supposed to be issued his scandalous identity as the nonexistent son of that Rockecenter magnate which should land him in jail or an asylum.  But I'm still confused exactly what the mission of Mission Earth is.  What's Heller supposed to do?  Advance environmentally-friendly technology, yes, but how?  Is he just supposed to show up with some magical sci-fi toys?  Join a science team and "discover" principles that boost the tech level forward by a hundred years?  And nobody's going to question where he came from or how he learned this stuff?

Heller's not worried - he's distracted by gold deposits in New England, and disappointed when Gris tells him that he already asked about them, but they're all long since mined out.  Hubbard, his characters, and gold.  Geez.

Gris reminds Heller that the Book of Space Codes (I am dead serious) forbid revealing that you're an alien to other aliens, and Heller uncharacteristically-snappily reminds Gris that he already knew that.  Gris tries to defuse the situation by saying how he's sure that Heller "will be a great agent.  Just what we want."

I'll be damned.  He did it, he actually did it!

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter Three - Inconsistently Hard Light

As Gris speeds home, looking forward to his brand-new dancing girl, he spots a unique opportunity - a herd of camels being led home by a donkey.  The jackass cuts in right in front of the other jackass, spooking the humble beast of burden and sending the camels scattering, while Gris laughs uproariously.

According to Sunday Today, this book is a "relentless page-turner."

Next Gris drops by Faht Bey's office at the International Agricultural Training Center for Peasants, delivering a stack of construction contracts and demanding thirty thousand more lira.  But fatso takes ten thousand for himself, explaining that he had to pay out of pocket to send Gris' dancing girl back to Istanbul after she made such a commotion upon arriving.  Gris is furious that his driver said he authorized the return, and that he'll be missing out on some dubiously-consensual sex.  His car dies on the way home, and when he finally makes it he finds that the driver isn't around to answer for his actions.

So with nothing better to do, more HellerVision.

Heller spent the morning jogging up and down the base's corridors with weighted sacks to compensate for Earth's lower gravity.  Then he equips some "spikes," sets of little drills strapped to a climber's wrists and feet that allow them to scale sheer surfaces, and climbs around the inside of the cavernous hangar to take rock samples.  He's concerned about earthquakes, you see.

When Heller reaches the top of the hollowed-out mountain fastness, he complains to himself about how much Apparatus facilities stink, and why they never properly air the places out.  He asks the hangar chief if he can shut off the "electronic illusion" of the mountaintop to let some fresh air in that evening, but is told that the equipment is so old that the "off" switch is immobile.

I'm grateful for this, as there isn't much to say about the rest of the chapter.  So: "electronic illusion."  Hubbard never bothered to explain what the hell he's talking about, but my best guess would be that there's a hologram of a mountain peak to disguise the vertical hangar entrance.  Now, as constructs of cunningly-arranged light sources, holograms are not known for their solidity, or ability to block air flow.  Indeed, Prince Caucalsia passes right through the "electronic illusion" while landing without incident.

So, seasoned science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, how can a spaceship move through a hologram but not air currents?

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter Two - The Latest in Chicago Fashion

Gris goes clothes shopping and talks to a guy who is referred to as "Jimmy 'The Gutter' Tavilnasty" no fewer than nine times.

There's a battered old sedan that might be leftover from World War One - you have to crank the engine to start it, and the car's cantankerous enough to break an arm while you do so.  Gris, naturally, has a servant do it, and once on his way amuses himself by driving carts off the road.  He refers to the two-wheeled horsecarts as "gigs," which is accurate but archaic, especially given the book's presumed setting in the then-present of the 1980's.

He pulls over to boggle at the big black rock that Afyonkarahisar takes its name from.  The other night Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty confronted Heller after watching the man climb the rock on his way to town, which Gris decides is impossible due to the hill's treacherous handholds, which would be all but invisible in the dark.  So rather than acknowledge Heller's awesomeness, Gris decides that Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty is a compulsive liar who was lying to Heller about what he saw Heller doing.  Kinda like greeting a stranger walking down the street and claiming that they're flying.

Why can't a Hubbard villain be smart?  Why can't they possess basic reasoning skills?  Why do they have to be so bloody stupid?  Didn't Hubbard realize that it cheapens his heroes' accomplishments when they're aided so much by their antagonists' mental deficiencies?  Outsmarting the bad guy is one thing, but Gris and Terl and the rest just don't have any smarts to begin with.

Gris visits the Mudlick Construction Company and negotiates the details of his hospital project, which will be half sensible building materials, half mud.  And he'll get a huge kickback out of it.  Then he hits the Giysi Modern Western Clothing Our Specialty Shop for Men and Gentlemen to get the latest in Chicago fashions, as imported from Hong Kong.  He leaves looking like a gangster and shortchanges the clerk by 495 lira.

Now I'm wondering if Gris' obsession with Prohibition-era mobsters is a character thing or a Hubbard thing.  Kinda like how Battlefield Earth had an inexplicable fondness for Scotsmen and the Thompson machine gun.  Was Hubbard retreating into his childhood interests in his last years, and this influence then made its way into Mission Earth?  Or is this yet another dig at his enemies, the suggestion that a member of the alien CIA would idolize organized crime?  As opposed to other terrestrial secret police; I'm sure Gris could find a ushanka in Turkey, Russia's right next door.  But nope, dated mobster wear and corny gangster dialogue it is.

Properly attired, Gris sets about tracking down Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty.  He has no luck searching the area's hotels, so Gris takes a moment to convince a local merchant to sell gold, giving Gris an easy outlet for all that transmuted shiny stuff en route from Voltar.  On his way out, a friendly encounter with a local policemen inexplicably allows Gris to deduce where Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty is hiding.

It must have sparked my wits.  Where would a gangster go in this town?  Of course, the Saglanmak Rooms!  Now, saglanmak, in Turkish, means "to be obtained" or "available."  But there is another word, saklanmak, which means "to hide oneself."  Now, according to that great master, Freud, the unconscious mind can twist words into meanings closer to the intent of that person.  These are called "Freudian slips."  This was what must have happened.  No matter that he didn't speak Turkish, Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty had made a Freudian slip.

Besides, it was the only place in town that the Mafia ever stayed.

I think we're intended to laugh at Gris here, but I'm not sure if all the other times he's stupid are meant as comic relief too.  And how effective can he be at comic relief when he spends the rest of the book murdering people, scamming people, and generally being an unpleasant little stain? 

Gris goes back to the previously-visited hotel, finds "John Smith" on the register, and bribes the guy at the desk to deliver some booze to Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty.  Gris times it so he slips in through the window just as Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty answers the door, yelling "Surprise!" at the extremely jumpy killer-for-hire.  Sadly, Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty misses his hasty, reflexive shot at the intruder and knocks himself out by crashing into the hotel worker as he tries to flee.

For his part, Gris is rather nonplussed that his plan to meet the mobster nearly got him killed, and doesn't seem to consider that there might be better ways to set up a meeting with someone.

When Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasy comes to, Gris amiably gives him his gun back and hands him a drink, name-dropping Babe Corleone as an "old flame."  He offers Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty a part in an upcoming scam - the hospital Gris designed will have Voltarian plastic surgery technology, capable of modifying fingerprints and voices in addition to faces.  For a steep fee, Gris will offer mobsters a new look, new passports, the works, with Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty getting a twenty percent cut as commission.  To sweeten the deal, Gris promises to deliver Gunsalmo Silva "on a silva platter" so Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty can complete his contract.

So Gris gets some new clothes, hires a new ally, and we finally learn how Gris plans to gain his (third) fortune.  Also note that after that conclusion back when he was looking at the big black mountain, Gris has no comment about his new employee being a compulsive liar.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, December 19, 2011

Part Thirteen, Chapter One - The Mystery of the Turkish Camel

I belatedly realize that last chapter, ending as it did with a lonely and battered Heller walking to his lodgings on a strange and hostile world, would have been a great place to link the "Lonely Man Theme" from The Incredible Hulk TV series.

Gris wakes up still feeling wonderful about how miserable Heller must be.  He gets dressed (orange shirt, black pants, cobra-skin shoes and belt), eats breakfast (melon, cacik and coffee), and continues to abuse the serving staff.  With all that out of the way, Gris settles down and... draws some floor plans for a building.  Huh.

I was designing a hospital.  It would be one story, with a basement.  It would have numerous wards and operating rooms.  It would also have a parking lot.  It would be surrounded by a wire fence made to look like a hedge.  And in the basement it would have numerous private rooms nobody would suspect were there.  It would have an Earth-type security system.  Every room would be bugged.

Hubbard wrote this paragraph at the end of a writing career that spanned roughly six decades.  I have got to dig up some of his early works to see if his writing declined along with his health, or if this really represents the apex of his talent.  If it does, damn.

As for Gris' hospital idea, it's kinda random.  So is this yet another of Hubbard's digs at the medical profession, or foreshadowing?  Guess we'll see.  The "World United Charities Mercy and Benevolent Hospital" is Gris' ticket to riches, and he's already planning to hit the World Health Organization and the Rockecenter Foundation for generous grants.  And this confuses me, as I distinctly remember Gris planning to smuggle a lot of transmuted gold from Voltar to Earth for his personal use.  So was that not enough, did Gris forget, or am I still having Battlefield Earth flashbacks?

Gris sends off construction orders for his pet project, exulting how his dual status as Section Chief and Inspector General Overlord means that he must be obeyed without question.  That hard work completed, Gris is ready for some "entertainment."  He calls up Melahat the housekeeper and very politely compliments her ("add 'hanim' to [their] name--it flatters them; they have no souls, you know") before asking if the "beautiful lady" he ordered has arrived yet.  When it's reported that she hasn't, Gris calls the woman camel dung and kicks her out.

According to Wikipedia, camels aren't really represented in Turkey.  Yet that's where the U.S. imported some of the animals from for its American Camel Corps project.  I am now more interested in this little mystery than I am in finishing this book.

His plans of whorin' away the morning dashed, Gris amuses himself by turning on the Hellervision.  He skips over Heller's sad march home the night previous, then watches an encounter between Heller and Faht Bey, as Heller complains that the clothes and shoes he was given are too small.  Meanwhile Bey warns that the townspeople are looking for someone who matches Heller's description after an attack left two respected citizens hospitalized, and invokes security measures to keep Heller confined to the base.

For his part, Heller is suspicious how a person that he just met knows that he meets the description of the attacker, forcing Bey to explain that Gris described Heller for him.  Gris' mental commentary to Heller displaying some intelligence is to complain that "My Gods, he was nosy."

So Heller spends the rest of the morning stomping around the base in his clickity-clack magnetized space boots, repeating the surveying trick he pulled in Spiteos several eons ago.  He inspects the numerous holding cells, and finds the storerooms where Lombar Hisst ordered sacks and sacks of opium stockpiled.  Heller scoops up some dust and puts it in his pocket; Gris assumes that he was wiping his hand clean and thinks no more of it.  Then Heller makes some notes and does some math; "Just some figures," thinks Gris.  "Pointless."  Finally, the not-so-secret agent draws a detailed map of the Apparatus base, which Gris just laughs at since Heller could've gotten the same schematics from the base construction office, plus he didn't even find the exit for Gris' secret tunnel!

So which of these two is the idiot with no idea how to maintain secrecy or investigate things?  Why isn't Gris worried that his enemy is taking such an interest in the secrets of the Apparatus, and is making documents and records of their illegal activities?  Why is it not enough for Hubbard's heroes to be so spectacular at their jobs, but he also requires that their enemies be so shockingly incompetent at theirs?

Also note that there's no rueful statements like "if I'd only known what he was up to then, and stopped him," or "I can't believe I just watched him do that."  Even though this series is supposedly the jail cell confession of Soltan Gris, written after all his plans went down in flames, presumably at Heller's hands.  It really underscores the fact that the whole "confession" angle is a poorly-integrated framing device created by editors in an attempt to salvage this heap of dead tree.

Anyway, the chapter ends with a not-miserable Gris laughing at how terrible a spy Heller is, before setting off to make his fortune.  Or another fortune; it's unclear if he's talking about his hospital scam, the gold that should still be en route, or some third plan.  And didn't he requisition a heap of local currency as soon as he got here?  Is this his fourth fortune? 

He's gonna have a whole wardrobe filled with snakeskin outfits by the book's end, isn't he?

Back to Part Twelve, Chapter Eleven

Friday, December 16, 2011

Part Twleve, Chapter Eleven - The Inevitable Bar Brawl

Gris continues to gloat about how poor and shabby and friendless Heller is, sitting there in that dingy Turkish bar.  Heller gets out some pieces of paper and tries to press one of the poppy flowers by banging on it, and of course the results are a mess, which Gris laughs at.  See, Heller isn't an obnoxiously perfect hero, he can't even press flowers right!

A group of twenty Turks suddenly enters the bar - "dressed in their sloppy jackets, tieless white shirts, unpressed pants" - and take seats as if they're waiting for something.  Then the door is kicked open by two burly men, who Gris recognizes as Musef and Torgut, local wrestling heroes.  Turks enjoy wrestling, you see.  Even more people come in to watch the imminent beatdown.

Musef tries Turkish before introducing himself in English, and Heller's response is "A yellow-man!"  And though there's plenty of ways to be offended by such a stupid statement, Musef goes with "yellow as a synonym for cowardice" rather than "this guy is racist and colorblind."

So, a barfight.  Musef challenges Heller, Heller the decorated combat engineer says he never fights, Musef tosses the glass of cholera and flowers in Heller's face, Heller amends his statement with "without a wager."  Five hundred lira is the stake, aaaaaand wrassle.

There's not much to it, really - Heller and Musef get grips on each other's shoulders and just kinda stand there in a stalemate, muscles a-quiver.  Then Torgut comes up from behind with a length of pipe, but Heller braces himself on Musef and kicks Torgut clear across the room, then squeezes Musef so that he screams and collapses.  Fight over.  You can scoot back from the edge of your seat now.

Heller asks for his money, but the crowd accuses him of cheating and whatnot, while the barkeep tries to charge him for property damage.  When things look like they'll get ugly, Heller suddenly scoops up Musef and throws him against the bar with enough force to knock it down onto the bartender.

As the noise died down, Heller said "Honor seems to be something you have never heard of."  He shook his head sadly.  "And I did want to try some of your beer."

Heller walked out.

Way to remind me to wonder what the Voltarian equivalent of alcohol is, or if they've even come up with the stuff since they don't have "drugs" on that planet.  Despite his ambush failing spectacularly, Gris sings himself to sleep as he imagines Heller limping home alone and outcast.  And with that we're done with the first Part of Black Genesis.

Back to Part Twelve, Chapter Ten

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Ten - Through Heller's Eyes

Those magical sci-fi biological bugging devices Gris installed in Heller's skull transmit data from the optic and aural nerves directly to a receiver, ja?  So presumably this receiver has a sophisticated little computer that interprets that data by simulating a Voltarian brain, because otherwise the implication is that the nerve impulses carrying information from our eyeballs could be displayed by a commercially-available TV, and that would just be silly.

Kinda like how Gris discovers that thanks to HellerVision he can see better through Heller's eyes than the man himself can, as Gris is somehow able to focus on things in Heller's peripheral vision, stuff he isn't directly looking at.  It even has picture-in-picture, so he can go over old footage while a real-time update continues.  The recordings for this space-aged device are stored on "strips" of something, by the way.  If it was actual film strips, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest.

After lamenting that he missed the part where Heller was wandering around the base, his attempts at making conversation or requesting a ride coldly rebuffed by his forewarned coworkers, Gris watches his nemesis hike into Afyon, and even spots something Heller apparently missed - someone hiding in a shadow, waiting for him.  The hatchet-faced fellow surprises Heller and demands to know if he's with the "Yew S Drug Enforcement.  The narcs!"  The man turns out to be a Mafia goon by the name of Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty...

I was hoping that things would get, I dunno, a little better once we got off the tedium that is Voltar.  Stupid of me, I know.  Tavilnasty.  I Googled it and the first two pages at least were nothing but other Mission Earth websites.  Which was actually kinda scary - imagine finding out that some other blogger had already sporked this turkey?

Anyway, Nasty mistakes Heller for a DEA newbie on the Mob's payroll, and offers a C-note (which Heller mistakes for a credit) if Heller can help with a contract (killing).  Nasty's looking for our friend Gunsalmo "is this guy going to be important?" Silva, who's suspected of offing Don "Holy Joe" Corleone.  Heller gets out his notepad and helpfully tries to jot down some info, since this stranger's Family is very upset.  Nasty gives Heller the address and phone number - "it's KLondike 5-8291," which I can't make heads or tails of - of Holy Joe's ex, Babe Corleone, in case he wants to drop off some intelligence if he's in the New Jersey area.

But Nasty eventually figures out that Heller isn't quite on top of things, and pulls him under a lamppost to get a good look at him.  He declares that Heller's just a kid of sixteen or seventeen, a "leftover flower nut" looking for some freebies to smoke, and leaves in disgust.  And back in his room, Gris hugs himself with glee that his nemesis is so healthy and fresh-faced that he looks like a high school student, meaning that no one will take him seriously.

I wonder why Hubbard decided his super-awesome perfect hero should be older than he looks?  Is his youthful vitality supposed to be an "obstacle" for him to overcome, or is it yet another advantage since everyone will supposedly underestimate him?  Is he trying to appeal to the young adult demographic?  "This guy's really in his thirties, but he looks like you do, so you should read this dekalogy?"  Wait, how old is Heller again?  Screw it, I'm not checking.

Heller tries to make sense of this encounter for a moment, then continues on, walking towards a bar whose owner was "the usual greasy, mustached Turk..."  so is Gris or Hubbard talking here?  Heller asks for a glass of water, but the bartender pretends not to speak English and shrugs him off.  Then the man reconsiders and pours out a refreshing glass of This Will Give You Cholera, indicating which seat Heller should take.  And did you know that Gris' magical biological bugs can hear better than the ears they're attached to?  Yes, even though the same nerve impulse is traveling to Heller's brain and Gris' receiver, Gris has the audio quality to hear the barkeep pick up the phone and say "he is here" in Turkish.

Heller is oblivious and sits down, putting some poppies in his glass rather than drink it.  Gris speculates that he must be homesick since Manco has some horticulturists, ergo Heller loves flowers, but is soon distracted when his better-than-the-eye-you're-looking-through peripheral vision spots Heller's reflection in a mirror.   His shirt is too small, he has no tie, he's dusty from the cement works and muddy from the poppy fields.  And Gris gloats and gloats about how Heller looks even worse than the Turks sloppily imitating Western dress, while he's resplendent in his "gangster" costume.

"Heller," I said aloud in gloating glee, "I've got you just where I want you.  And in my fondest dreams, I never thought you would look that bad!  A dirty, penniless bum in a stinking slum café!  Welcome to Planet Earth, Heller, you and your fancy ways.  Everyone does MY bidding here, not yours!  Our roles have reversed utterly!  And it's about time!"

It's pretty sad how much of Gris' revenge centers on his nemesis looking shabby.  Not unexpected, mind you, but still sad.

Back to Chapters Eight and Nine

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapters Eight and Nine - Homecoming

There's as many kinds of Villain Protagonists as there are villains.  Some of them start off with sympathetic intentions but fall further into evil as the story progresses - Arthas from Warcraft III, Light from Death Note, and so forth.  Some we can root for because they're fighting against someone worse, like Dexter the serial killer who hunts serial killers.  Sometimes we like them because they're funny, like Deadpool.

And then there are those villainous protagonists with no redeeming features whatsoever, who hurt good people and have no noble goals to excuse their vile actions.  Such as Soltan Gris.

After sending his driver off to pick up a woman who will optimistically be paid for her sexual services, Gris reconsiders yelling for a luggage boy in order to have some fun.  He creeps into the slumbering Roman-style villa, where two families of Turkish peasants share the old slave quarters.  Gris wants to complain about the grass being unkempt or the floors dirty, but alas, his servants have done excellent work maintaining the grounds during his trip to "America."  He's about to give up on having his little "joke," but then he remember Faht Bey telling him how his last prostitute stole all his clothes before running off.

With this excuse in mind, Gris pulls his gun, turns on his flashlight, kicks open the door to the servants' bedroom, fires into the ceiling, and screams "Jandarma!" (police).   The serving staff starts screaming too, falling out of bed in a panic, and the chaos only increases when a local security force rushes in to investigate the gunshots.  But when the security detail sees it's old "Sultan Bey" they start laughing, even while one of the children starts throwing up.  A mother wails that she knew "Sultan Bey" would be angry when he found out about the clothes, but an eight-year-old crawls on his hands and knees to beg Gris not to kill them, since they pooled their money to buy replacements.

Oh, it was a great homecoming.

Gris orders the groundskeeper to go tend to the (perfect) gardens, the cook to get breakfast going (it's still dark), has the cleaners start dusting (needlessly), and demands that his accountant get everything in order before dawn.

As I walked to my room, I burst out laughing.  How different than Voltar.

How good it was to be home!

Here, I was power itself!

On this planet, I could get anything executed, even Heller!

Melahat, the dumpy widow who runs the serving staff, follows Gris in to show him his replacement wardrobe, complaining about how his old girl was trouble.  Gris tells her that a new one will be arriving shortly and will be housed in "that room that used to be used for tools."  Then he hits the kitchen to enjoy a genuine Turkish meal, and while Gris breakfasts he orders Karagoz, the official head servant, to come in.  Gris berates the man for stealing and selling all the rugs and tapestries, while both know full well that Gris sold them all off the last time he was here, and of course Karagoz can't argue with his master.  Gris demands that he buy some expensive replacements, hand over any commission money, and slash the staff's food budget by half, before dismissing the man.

I sat there grinning.  I really knew how to handle people.  Psychology is a wonderful thing.  A true tool in my line of business.

Note that Hubbard forgot to have Gris do any of his Psychology! on anyone in this or the last chapter.  He's not invoking the reptilian part of people's brains, he's just being a dick.

While musing that he can get away with anything on Earth, Gris remembers Heller and rushes back to his room.  Not the one that the staff knows about, but his secret room, accessed through a hidden door and buried underground.  It has his real wardrobe, a weapons cache, disguise kit, passports, the works.  Gris changes clothes (black slacks, loafers, and a "sport shirt with flaming poinsettias" - "no movie gangster ever looked more at home")  and settles back to spy on Heller with those magical biological bugs.

...This is going to be a tough book, I can tell.

Back to Chapter Seven 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Seven - (Muddled) History

We get a lengthy bit of backstory when Gris' ride home is stalled by traffic, leaving him with nothing better to do than reflect upon the Apparatus' history on Earth.

Turns out the Apparatus had agents on Earth as far back as during World War One, and three such infiltrators had missed their ride home.  This left them in Turkey in the middle of the Greco-Turkish War, and then it gets confusing.  Gris claims that the Voltarians saw Turkish forces under Ismet Pasha defeat the invaders at Afyon in 1920.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, tells me that the Battle of Afyonharahisar took place in 1921 and was a Greek victory.  Whatever.  The Apparatus jerks stole Turkish uniforms and went on to serve in the rest of the campaign, becoming pals with Ataturk after the formation of modern Turkey.

This trio of advance agents must have been far-sighted, because when they finally called in for pick-up they came up with a fundraising plan - opium, produced all around Afyon, was becoming very lucrative due to American efforts to clamp down on the drug trade.  So the Apparatus, under Lombar Hisst's predecessor Old Muhck... you know, I think I've figured out why this is labelled satire.  In a non-satirical work, you can't get away with calling your villains "Stabb" or "Muhck" or "Bastard McDevilpants."  Hubbard had to be creative in Battlefield Earth and make up names like "Terl" or "Snit."  Here all he has to do is misspell pejoratives. 

Anyway, espionage groups like the Apparatus always have trouble with finances, because it takes a lot of money to bribe your way through customs and form a cover identity to get a job as newspaper worker so you can print "Capitulate To The Invader Demands Before It Is Too Late!" headlines during the invasion.  So the Apparatus set up its base in Turkey, integrated itself into Afyon's local economy and ingratiated itself to the locals by buying their crop (they think the aliens are from the Mob), and presto, a decades-long extraplanetary drug smuggling operation was born.  And then Lombar succeeded Muhck (poison was likely involved), read about Britain's use of opium in China, and decided to do the same to his home planet.

That's really most of the chapter.  Gris eventually gets to his villa, the staff of which are still sleeping and don't know he's back.  He overpays his driver by a huge amount by accident but decides to roll with it because he's in such a good mood, and then imitates a gangster:

"Listen, pal, there's a broad, a dame, a skirt, see.  She'll be getting off the morning plane from the big town.  You keep your peepers peeled at the airport, put the snatch on her, take her to the local sawbones and get her checked for the itch in the privates department and if she gets by the doc, take her for a ride out here.  If she don't, just take her for a ride!"

Gris' driver, who he remembers is a child rapist, joins Gris to scream with laughter before departing, leaving us with an exciting cliffhanger as Gris opens his mouth to call for someone to haul his luggage.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, December 12, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Six - Hitting the Ground Running

Ever wondered what it's like to land on an alien planet?

We slipped down secretly through the darkness toward our base on Planet Earth.

That's about it.  There's a line about how the puny Earthling radar can't detect them, they pass through the simulated mountaintop, and they're in the hangar.  Ta-da.

Even though we already had a summary of the last book's events at the start of this one, we get another situation report in this chapter.  Gris, faced with a delusional and drug-addled boss, has decided that the best thing to do is to write up a two-page "resume of position."  The gist of it is that the Apparatus' drug supply depends on Delbert John Rockecenter, a pharmaceutical and energy magnate who controls much of the planet, and whose energy empire is threatened by the clean alternative fuels Heller is supposed to be introducing.  Gris also notes that an assassin has been ordered to kill him if he screws up, so he resolves not to.

There is something new, though.  Gris notes that if Heller succeeds and Earth's tech-level increases over the next hundred years, it would be subject to a PC or "Peaceful Cooperation" style of "invasion," in which Voltar would establish a few bases and leave Earth to mostly run itself.  As opposed to a premature intervention to wipe out Earth's civilizations before they can do more damage to the real estate.

I'm not sure how we're supposed to feel about this.  Are we going to root for Heller in hopes that our homeworld becomes an alien client state?  Not that a "peaceful" invasion really seems plausible, given the bloodthirsty soldiers we've been seeing so far, not to mention the lousy administration of the Voltarian government.  And why didn't anyone bring up this possibility a book ago?  Wouldn't showing up and offering some nice clean fuels be a great way to win over potential vassals? 

With his potentially-inflammatory write-up completed (and not instantly thrown in a disintegrator or anything), Gris is in a good mood as he disembarks, at least until he walks under one of the invisible "pressure beam supports" holding the ceiling up and gets knocked down.  A physical support column is much too primitive for these awesome aliens, you see.

Gris has The Actual Captain Stabb spread the word that a Royal agent is coming to town who should be avoided, sends Heller to get some local clothes and start taking in the sights, then goes to visit the base commander.  Timyjo Faht of Flisten has taken the local name of Faht Bey, and for added humor is indeed overweight.  He's visibly shaken to see an Apparatus officer unexpectedly appear in his base, and is not reassured when Gris tells him that he'll be killed if he doesn't follow orders.

Gris looses a flurry of orders, telling Lord Tubso to use his contacts in Afyon to spread the word that an agent of the American Drug Enforcement Agency matching Heller's description is nosing around and shouldn't be talked to.  He also demands that some local thugs give Heller a Will Smith-style welcome to Earth - not to kill him, just to show him what things are like here.  Gris demands his old quarters back and orders a replacement dancing girl to keep him company, sends word for Raht to join fellow Apparatus advance agent Terb in New York in anticipation of Heller's arrival, and requisitions ten thousand each of American dollars and Turkish lira for his personal use by means of a forged order.

To cap all this off, Gris takes the base commander's personal sidearm for his own, an M1911 pistol, and playfully mock-shoots the man in the gut with it.  He pockets the gun in imitation of Humphrey Bogart, dragging another entertainment icon into this terrible book, and hops in a taxi for home.

For in truth, I was home.  This was my kind of country.  Of all the places in the universe I'd been, this was the one place that really appreciated my type.  Here, I was their kind of hero.  And I loved it.

A pretty malicious slander not just to Turkey, but the entire planet.  Fun note: Soltan Gris' Turkish alias is "Sultan Bey," which is roughly as nonsensical as "Prince Duke."

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, December 9, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Five - Dropped Subtitle Drop

After the mind-expanding physics lessons of last chapter, this one is pretty underwhelming.

Gris is in a good mood since he's had a few days of sleep, the speed is completely out of his system, and the tug has safely coasted into orbit five hundred miles over Earth, within the Van Allen belts.  A game of dice with a crewman has earned Gris a whole half-credit, while The Actual Captain Stabb is all chummy with him after confirming that Gris has some sinister plans for Heller.

"I've been watching you, Officer Gris, and if I read the signs right, we're going to get a crack at that (bleeping) (bleepard) Royal officer, ain't we?"

I felt good enough to be witty.  I whispered back, "I heard you very extinctly."

Is Gris making a bad pun or being stupid?  I don't know either.

Later Gris joins Heller in the lounge again, the former eating lunch while the latter pores over the briefings, Turkey visible in the viewscreens.  Gris gets to show some competence by pointing out and named the surrounding seas and the capital of Istanbul, while Heller is more interested in the Caucasus Mountains due to that whole Prince Caucalsia garbage.  The Apparatus agent has to explain that the Caucasus is a no-go area, controlled by nuclear-capable communists (as if Heller would know what those are) who are in turn ruled by a secret military police organization.

"Like the Apparatus?" he said.

"Yes, like the Apparatus!  No!  I mean you can't go there.  Now will you pay attention?"

So.  The KGB-ruled Russia is an insane and dangerous country.  Just as bad, in fact, as Voltar's Coordinated Information Apparatus.  Which was "inspired" by the American CIA.  Wonder if there's a country Hubbard does approve of?

Gris then points out the city of Afyonkarahisar, which is where the Apparatus has set up its base. Heller is more interested in the fields of flowers, and Gris has to lie about what the poppies are for.  He explains that the local mountaintop is actually an "electronic simulation" that opens right into the Apparatus' underground hangars, undetectable to local "wave scanners." Presumably no one's tried to hike up the thing lately.

Some trivia: the town's name literally means "opium black castle," and the top of the mountain is an ancient fortress.  Could this be the Fortress of Evil in Black Genesis?  From the looks of it, it's probably the mountain depicted on the other covers, though what the Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque is doing nearly two hundred miles from Istanbul is anybody's guess.

The Apparatus has thoroughly infiltrated the area, taking over the local Agricultural Training Center for Peasants (really?), a satellite tracking station, and even an archaeological dig.  And how can they pass as locals?

"Listen, these are very primitive people.  They breed heavily.  They have disease and babies die.  Typical riffraff.  So for over half a century, when a baby is born, we've made sure the birth is registered.  But when it dies, we've made sure the death isn't registered.  The officials are corrupt.  That gives us tons of birth certificates, more than we could ever hope to use."

This is only aided by Turkey's willingness to invite foreign workers.  The Apparatus even goes along when Turkey calls for a draft, and since the country is run by its military there are Apparatus officers in Istanbul.  And Heller, the book's hero, is genuinely impressed by this deception.  "Then we kind of own this little piece of the planet."

Interesting.  No objection to the country being ruled by the military, though he is distraught at the thought of the Caucasus in the hands of a country run by the Earth version of the Apparatus.  And no objection to the country being infiltrated by the very Apparatus he's comparing the KGB to, either.  No indignation when Gris calls the Turks a bunch of impoverished primitives.  No problem with the Voltarian Confederacy ruling these backwards Earthlings.

He thanks Gris for his information and leaves, while Gris exults how Heller will never leave Earth alive, etc.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Four - In Which Time and Space are Twisted Beyond Comprehension

I have to admit, the first few chapters worried me a little.  They were bad, yes, but mostly they were boring, instead of that entertaining type of badness I cherish.  But then along comes this chapter to make everything better.

Gris stumbles his way to the tug's lounge, getting zapped repeatedly despite the insulating gloves he donned, where he finds Heller waiting for him (in a blue insulator suit and hood, because we must know what Heller is wearing at all times).  Heller's playing a game of "Battle," a simulated intergalactic war, which Gris thinks is silly since "technology is not up to two galaxies fighting."  Keep in mind that he belongs to a civilization that emigrated from another galaxy and has mighty engines capable of intergalactic travel.  Though Gris mentions that the computer opponent is notoriously difficult, Heller seems to be winning.

But another electrical short makes the game crash, to Gris' silent delight.  Rather than booting it up again, Heller decides to answer Gris' accusations of going too fast and complaints about not knowing how the engines work.  So here's the description of the Will-be Was engines, Voltarian science, and the nature of the universe itself.

Physicists and other "hard" scientists may want to take some aspirin about now. 

"You have to understand time," he said.  "Primitive cultures think energy movement determines time.  Actually, it's the other way around.  Time determines energy movement.  You got that?"

Frankly, no.  I'm used to the Newtonian concept of time as a universal constant, a dimension like height or width.  I'm aware that Kant thought time was a subjective, internal intuition that allowed us to make sense of events.  But it sounds like the Voltarians think Time is a force like gravity.

Heller goes on to describe how athletes and soldiers are able to control time.  You see, when you're boxing or fighting another guy, and things seem to slow down, and you enter a heightened state of awareness where you're better able to react to a hostile situation?  That's not adrenaline altering your perception of time, that's you warping the fabric of spacetime with the power of your mind!

No explanation why time doesn't slow down for the other guy, or everyone else in the universe, or what the range of this distortion is.

And no, Heller isn't even close to finished.  Gris is so stupid that he needs tutoring in elementary Voltarian science, so Heller explains how the universe works.

"First," he said, "there is LIFE."  And that word appeared at the top of the screen.  "Some primitive cultures think life is the product of the universe, which is silly.  It's the other way around.  The universe and things in it are the product of life.  Some primitives develop a hatred for their fellows and put out that living beings are just the accidental product of matter, but neither do such cultures get very far."

We've moved past normal kinds of stupid to levels of dumbness preceded by profanity.

So LIFE, or physical organisms capable of reproducing, came before matter?  Or even the universe in which they themselves exist?  The sun exists because I'm alive, even though most empirical evidence suggests it's a great deal older than I am?  Velocity exists becomes I'm alive?

Gris also has objections to this theory, though for other, much dumber reasons.

He was flying into the teeth of my own heroes: psychiatrists and psychologists.  They can tell you with great authority that men and living things are just rotten chunks of matter and ought to be killed off, which proves it!  Just try and tell them that there is such a thing as independent life and they'd order you executed as a heretic!  Which shows they are right.  I let him go on.  Not too long from now, he'd get what was coming to him.

I have no idea where Hubbard got the idea that the people delving into the workings of the human brain were some kind of nihilist Darwinists.  Shouldn't he hate biologists for suggesting that humans are just another kind of animal?  Or scientists in general for having a non-romantic view of humans' place in the universe?  But nope, he focuses this hatred on psychologists... with some to spare for others, obviously.

Heller goes on to arrange the order of things, with LIFE on the top, followed by TIME, SPACE, ENERGY, and MATTER.  So much for spacetime and converting matter to energy and vice-versa.  Since humans - excuse me, Voltarians - are LIFE, they can control everything lower than them on this scale.  A society's technological level depends on how much of that scale they control - the Voltarians are a superpower because they can control time, while primitive societies who think that time controls them are doomed to failure.  Gris mentally complains that "Any psychologist can tell you that man is totally the product of everything, that man can change nothing!"

Meanwhile I'm wondering why we humans, who have proven our mastery of Life by banging out more humans since we existed as a species, still can't control Time yet, or warp Space to our wills.

According to Heller, it is Time which determines "the orbits of the atom, the fall of the meteorite, and the behavior of a sun," not things like protons and neutrons, or gravity and atmospheric density, or mass and hydrogen levels.  Time also ensures that things will exist in the future, but this determinism is measurable up to twenty-four hours thanks to harmonic "side bands."  Hence the "time sights" Heller brought onto the ship.

He hands one to Gris, who aims it at the lounge door and twiddles with the knob on the device.  He gets a grainy image that could conceivably be him, looking rather defeated, slinking through about six and a half minutes from now, so Gris resolves to not leave the room looking that pathetic.  Heller explains that time sights are needed to steer ships traveling faster-than-light - since you can't see the normal way, you look ahead through time and alter course if you see yourself colliding with something, thus showing how Life masters Time.

Heller makes a comparison to how mathematicians can predict an object's movement by calculating its velocity and whatnot, which raises the question of why you can't use star charts and computers to plot your faster-than-light route like in just about every other sci-fi setting, rather than using a crystal ball and some trial-and-error steering.  I'm also wondering if changing lanes to avoid a slow-moving garbage truck counts as Life mastering Time, or deciding to go inside when you see a storm rolling in.

But on to those Will-be Was engines.

"Now, in the center of a Will-be Was there is an ordinary warp drive engine just to give power and influence space.  There is a sensor, not unlike this time sight, but very big.  It reads where time predetermines a mass to be.  Then the engine makes a synthetic mass that time incorrectly reads to be half as big as a planet.  The ordinary power plant thrusts this apparent mass against time itself.  According to the time pattern, that mass, apparently HUGE, should not be there.  Time rejects it.  You get a thrust from the rejection.  But, of course, the thrust is far too great as the mass is only synthetic.  This causes the engine base to literally be hurled through space.

To recap:
1. Time knows when you're leaving a room, and if you'll be colliding with a sun, measurable up to a day ahead of you
2. Time is a physical force that you can bounce an artificial mass off of to propel yourself forward, because Time just can't accept a small planetoid seeming to appear out of nowhere
3. Bouncing yourself off Time is a more powerful propellant than, say, projecting an artificial mass ahead of you and letting gravity pull you forward, or using an artificial mass to warp space and shorten your voyage that way
4. Time is precognitive and predeterministic, but you can dupe it and defy it

Those jolts Gris had been feeling?  That's Time bouncing the ship forward each time the engines project a false mass.  "'Will be,' says the mass synthesizer.  'Was,' says time.  Over and over.  And the speed simply tries to rise to infinity."  I have no idea why tenses suddenly matter, but I'm having trouble seeing straight at this point, so I'll just go along with it.

The frequent static zappings are a byproduct of this faster-than-light travel.  Since the ship is passing through so many photons and "force lines of gravity you wouldn't ordinary detect," the vessel is picking up a lot of excess energy.  Heller briefly turns on a viewscreen to reveal the ship's yellow-green (color adjusted since English has no terms for hyperluminal phenomena) energy wake flaring up all around the spaceship and trailing behind for a hundred miles, which Gris compares to a speedboat kicking up an ocean spray, except this terrifies him.

Gris worries if this is what killed Tug Two, but Heller brushes aside such concerns.  Since the former Tug One is traveling at an average speed of 516,166,166 miles per second (2,775 times the speed of light, according to my calculator), its gravity synthesizers are keeping its passengers from feeling the effects of 1,289,401.409 G's.  Heller thinks Tug Two's gravity failed and pancaked the crew, leaving the ship to careen on as a stream of plasma.  He expresses his hope that the technicians got Tug One's gravity synthesizers set up nicely, since they were so rushed to depart, but doesn't seem too worried.

Finally, Heller explains his planned arrival time - he wanted to get to Earth at sunrise to make an early start of it, while The Actual Captain Stabb is more cautious and wants a full day to ensure security before moving in at nightfall.  Then he advises Gris to get some sleep so they can talk shop the next day.

So Gris, shaken and crushed, slinks out of the cabin in exactly the same way the time sights saw he would.  Which could raise questions about whether or not you can really avoid the fates revealed by the devices and if they're safe to pilot your ship by, were I capable of walking in a straight line after so much mind-boggling Hubbard Science.

Back to Chapter Three 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Three - Gris Has a Fever, and the Only Cure is Paperwork

Sometimes it's hard to go on and finish the chapter after reading the first sentence in it.

About twelve hours later I was not as bad off for I had gotten about eight hours sleep, and although feeling depressed, I had decided I might possibly live.

After running out of epithets to curse I. G. Barben and its pharmaceutical products, Gris reflects that reading the clinical descriptions of speed's effects isn't quite the same as going through a day of the shakes yourself.  There's a paragraph where he goes over some exotic terms from Earth's drug culture, such as speed, speed freak, and popped (pills), but he decides to stay off the junk forever.  He gets up to throw the bottle of pills in the disintegrator, changes his mind so that he can give the pills to his enemies, and changes his mind again when he decides "it was impossible to hate anyone that much."

So, you hear that, puny human drug users?  Even Soltan Gris thinks Drugs Are Bad.  The man who pulled someone's guts out through their ribcage wouldn't wish a hit of speed on his worst enemy.  What the hell is wrong with you?

Suffering from cabin fever, Gris decides to... do some paperwork.  Guess he wants to be really sober.  Amongst the usual reports of opium production, assassinations, and bribe fees, Gris discovers that senior clerk Bawtch has made a mistake!  Exciting, I know.  See, Bawtch failed to mark some papers as "urgent," so Gris never stamped them (this is still Bawtch's mistake, mind you), which means that some human abductees are going to be "hypno-blocked" and trained by the Apparatus for use on Earth rather than simply discontinued.

Among them is Gunsalmo Silva, the guy we bumped into in the hangar chapters and chapters ago.  According to his file, Silva is a Sicilian immigrant to America who became a Mafia "hit man" who "wasted" people before going "on the lam" in Turkey, where he was picked up by the Apparatus and interrogated.  And no, I don't know why we're suddenly using quotation marks for Earth phrases instead of italics.  Consistency is for authors who haven't founded their own religions.

And then, while Gris is fantasizing about chewing out Bawtch for his errors, we get a blink-and-you'll-miss-it plot point.

Then a sudden thought struck me.  The Prahd package!  The one that contained his overcoat and duplicate identoplate and the forged suicide note.  I had been so hurried that night, I'd forgotten to give it to a courier to hold and mail a week after we left.  That package was still sitting there on the floor beside my office desk.

Oh, well, we can't remember everything, can we?  A mere detail.  Unimportant.

So, how many chapters is it going to take before this becomes relevant again?  And will there be any reminders along the way?  And why was now the best time for Hubbard to bring it up? 

Gris finishes his paperwork and gets cranky because now he doesn't have anything to do.  Then a screen on the wall turns on to display a message from "Stabb, The Actual Captain."  Due to the course calculations of a certain Royal officer who I dearly hope isn't real royalty, The Actual Captain is slowing down to extend their voyage by half a day so they arrive in Turkey after dark.

This means that Gris gets to spend another thirty-six hours in this "(bleeping) metal box."  But since there's no hero to take away his metal boxes, Gris resolves to go give that Heller moron a stern talking to.

He gets zapped by static three times in the process of leaving his room.  You can laugh if you want to.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter Two - Hyperspace is Boring

In most works, faster-than-light travel, whether done through warp drives or hyperspace or a dimensional portal or whatever, is a bit of a narrative event no matter how mundane it may be in the setting.  It's a leap into the unknown, a way to describe the mechanics of your universe, and there's usually blurring starfields of dazzling tunnels of energy involved.  For movies it's an excuse to have some neat special effects, give the guys watching in the theater a real show, like they're the ones blasting off.  Writers have it a little harder in that they lose the visual medium, but unlike filmmakers they don't have a special effects budget, so the only limits are their imagination and ability to express themselves. 

Hubbard chooses to show the effects of the infamous Will-be Was "time drives" mainly through automated warning messages, like the "fasten seat belt" signs that light up on an airplane.

Gris is strapped into his cot, a nervous wreck coming down from his high and trying to shake himself to pieces.  Then warning lights flash on the wall - I guess through a projector - FASTEN GRAVITY BELTS!  And then DO NOT MOVE!  SHIFTING TO TIME DRIVE!  Then HYPERGRAVITY SYNTHESIZERS UNBALANCED.  There's a brief moment when Gris feels like "weights were wrenching" at him, there's a flash as they break the light barrier, but before too long the "hypergravity" gets balanced again and the signs declare that it's safe to move around.

That's it. 

Gris spends the next sixteen hours watching the room's clock, wishing for the sweet release of death from his drug-induced spasms.  A crewman comes in at some point to give him a drink, which Gris is grateful for until he decides he'd rather have died of thirst.  Then he gets heart palpitations, and then a headache.

The most Gris has to say about the Will-be Was engines is that they aren't as smooth as warp drives, and the occasional jerks really hurt his head.  But mostly he's aching from the shakes.  And he stays in his cot for a total of thirty-six hours after launch, with occasional food and drink from crewmen.  No mention of potty breaks.

Just when he's starting to feel better, the MIDPOINT VOYAGE warning pops up, declaring that the ship is now decelerating.  The FASTEN GRAVITY BELTS warning flashes again before a moment of zero-G, then the hypergravity synthesizers... reverse?  And the whole room gimbals around so it's reversed?

Well, this confusion is certainly a refreshing break from the boredom.  So, even though this spaceship has artificial gravity that's able to completely nullify the effects of lift-off from a planetary surface, the act of decelerating in deep space requires that the rooms swivel around?  How would this help?  My car seat doesn't reverse every time I squeeze the brakes, nor when I put it in reverse (in case this is one of those spaceships that has to spin around and fire its engines in the opposite direction to decelerate).  And if the passengers are already strapped in, why does it matter which way their chairs are facing?

I need to dig through some "classic" sci-fi and see if this was a common idea.  I guess I'm just spoiled from Star Trek and Star Wars, I've never put this much thought into whether or not my spaceship's furniture should swivel around.

With a howl the time drives disengage, the ship's systems compensate for the deceleration, and it's safe to move around again.  Gris, nauseated from the moment of weightlessness, takes the opportunity to read the mysterious letter he found in his pocket.  There's two notes - the first advises him how an enclosed five-pointed amulet can be used to control the formerly-pirate crew through electroshocks and "hypnopulses," the second is a warning from Lombar Hisst that Gris' going away party for Mission Earth almost got him killed, but Hisst decided to stay the order.

So Gris gets to freak out about the possibly of an assassin stowed away on the ship.  He gets up to toss the letter in the disintegrator, but gets zapped by static, even though he's wearing that insulated pressure suit Heller gave him specifically to avoid such issues.

Even the ship was striking at me!

I collapsed on a bench and wept.

Aww.  This is the first time I get to say "the chapter ends with Gris feeling miserable" for the new book.

A few more notes, though - there's a footnote in this chapter from the translator, explaining why curses have been (bleep)ed out.  In it a Monte Pennwell is also mentioned as a contributor, so I finally know what that name was on the map pages.

Also, we get our - drumroll please - first theological reference explained!  The star-shaped pendant Gris got is "one of the religious kind," depicting "the God Ahness, the one they pray to to avert underhanded actions."  ...Okay, maybe "explained" was a bit much.  But at least one of the Gods or Devils or Hells that Gris is mentioning actually has a name now.  A name that I'm pretty sure will pop up later as an explanation of where we humans get the word "honest."

I'm wondering if I should have mentioned what color the warning messages where.  They varied from orange to purple to red and beyond, but there's no mention of those "hyperluminal" colors the translato-bot discussed in the book's intro.

Still no explanation as to how these "time drives" actually propel a spaceship, but there's plenty of chapters left in the book, eh?

Back to Chapter One

Monday, December 5, 2011

Part Twelve, Chapter One - Presumably We're In Space Now

The book's second line is used to tell us that Jettero Heller is still in his dress uniform, as if we might be wondering if he'd managed to change clothes between volumes.  The third line confirms that his little red cap is still on his head.  Looking back, just about every time Heller appears in the story, Hubbard gives us a wardrobe update.  Meanwhile I still have no concept of Gris' appearance beyond "shabby." 

When Gris makes his way to the spaceship's cockpit, he finds Jettero Heller lounging in the pilot's seat (in his dress uniform and red hat), controlling the throttle with one hand while holding a mic in the other to chat with Traffic Control, mentioning Prince Caucalsia's order number and everything without any regard to operational security. He even frisks Gris and uses the agent's identoplate to authorize their departure

Gris is distracted from their rather overt departure by an envelope in his pocket, an envelope that he didn't put there.  An envelope that angers him.  "I felt terribly irritated by it.  The thing offended me.  It should not have been there!"  But he doesn't open it.  That'll show that stupid envelope.

There's a confrontation when the captain from the ship's "Antimanco" crew... hold on, Heller isn't the captain?  That's right, he's Mission Earth's completely unqualified infiltrator, not the guy flying the spaceship.  So why was Heller the one who picked the mission ship?  Why was Heller the one who took off?  Why has he been acting like he's in charge of the mission and simply refused to listen to the suggestions or orders of the guys actually planning and launching the operation? Why hasn't anyone put him in his place? 

Bossy little sod.  Well, the real captain's here now, staring at Heller with undisguised loathing for being both a Manco and a Fleet-trained "royal officer" ...oh God, please don't tell me Heller's actually royalty.  I was joking when I wondered how he'd become a prince.  Please, no.

Heller asks to see the crew's papers and everything seems to check out, though he does wonder at the lack of a detaching endorsement for the crew's last voyage (it's because they went pirate before being Apparatus'd).  He graciously allows the captain to take over the control deck, and then Heller sees to Gris, because the little murderer looks bad and needs taking care of.

So Gris, expecting at any minute to be thrown out an airlock, is led back to his room, gently set down on his bed, tenderly undressed... and put in a pressure suit and strapped down.  This is partially because Gris has a bad case of the post-meth Shakes, and also to help against G-forces.  Because the spaceship with engines that warp time and space doesn't have an inertial damper or G-diffuser or anything.  Oh, and the suit's also insulated in case of "stray sparks."  So it's a spaceship with engines that warp space-time and faulty wiring.

Then Heller goes around Gris' cabin, picking up loose items (to torture Gris with, Gris decides) and putting them in a safe, tsks over the bottle of pills, sets up some buttons Gris could use to call him or the captain, notes the envelop Gris found has been marked "urgent" and advises him to read it, and leaves (to confer with the captain on ways to kill Gris, of course).

The chapter ends with our paranoid narrator tied up like a mental patient and shaking in his restraints, wishing for death.  "But not with an amphetamine; no, my Gods!  That would be too cruel!"

What's weird is that I have no idea what Prince Caucalsia is doing right now.  Last book/chapter it was still shooting into the sky from the launch party, right?  Well, there's no indication that it's even moving beyond a mention of going down a "tilted" passageway.  No deafening roar from the engines, no shuddering and shaking of the ship itself as it slices through the atmosphere, no howl of wind or clouds streaming past the windows, no moment of sudden quiet when it leaves the atmosphere.  It has no effect on the characters' movement or behavior - Heller is lounging in the pilot's seat, the captain is just standing in a side passage.  Nobody's strapped in or bracing themselves despite being in metal tube using controlled explosions to fling itself free of a gravity well.  Nobody had to strap in before the launch, but Heller gets Gris to his cabin and all suited up afterward.

We had our exciting spaceship launch last chapter, and then the author kind of forgot about it. 

Back to the Stuff Before Chapter One
Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Nine

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Stuff Before Chapter One

I haven't even started volume 2 of Mission Earth yet and I'm already confused.

For one thing, it's missing a subtitle.  At the end of The Invaders Plan we were ordered to read MISSION EARTH: Volume 2: BLACK GENESIS: Fortress of Evil.  But I've looked all over my copy of Black Genesis and can't find the Fortress of Evil part anywhere.  Volume 3, The Enemy Within, doesn't have a subtitle, nor did Volume 1.  So someone somewhere decided four lines in the book's title were too many, and cut Fortress of Evil out everywhere except the last pages of The Invaders Plan.  Sloppy.

The cover... well, it's a little more interesting than The Invaders Plan's "bronze fist clutching puny planet Earth."  Here we have an oddly-colored spaceship that's much too thin and dinky to be Prince Caucalsia flying towards Earth, depicted nestled in the center of a flower, whose petals are red in the foreground, fading to a star-studded black behind the planet.  Probably deeply symbolic of something.  Probably Freudian, too.  These Apparatus punks are gonna penetrate Earth's unsuspecting society, aww yeah.

I like it the best of the three cover variants I've found poking around online, though.

Another cover is more dramatic, to be sure, but it has its share of problems.  We've got a ship that's more likely to be the former Tug One making a fiery landing on a semi-molten mountain right in the middle of what has to be Istanbul, given the presence of a structure that's meant to invoke the Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque.  By the scale, the spaceship is larger than the Turkey-denoting landmark, probably to make room for all those libraries and entertainment rooms and gilded suites.  Now, I don't think Istanbul has a mountain right smack next to the Hagia Sophia, but I've never been to Turkey, so I can't be certain.  I also thought the Mission Earth spaceship was supposed to sit in orbit, so this kind of blatantly overt fiery landing in the heart of a major metropolis seems unlikely.  But it could happen.

And then there's cover the third.

Actually, I think I like this one the best, because it's just so friggin' goofy.  We've got some poor bastard trying to look heroic in a banana-yellow matador's outfit with black turban and huge red feather.  He's somehow concealed a bulky, obviously alien ray gun in this light, festive vest.  He's posing in front of... let's call it Mount Hubbard; Wikipedia says the highest point in Istanbul is Çamlıca Hill at 945 feet, and from what I've gleaned from Google Images, it looks like part of steadily-rising terrain surrounding the city, not the bulwark of stone depicted here.  There's also a lot of lighting involved to give the banana-man some sense of drama and danger.  Maybe there's a bad thunderstorm in the book, I dunno.

Moving past that... outfit, we've got some blurbs assuring us of the great time to be had, three of which are recycled from the last book.  Orson Scott Card warns "You will lose sleep, you will miss appointments... if you don't force yourself to put it down."  He didn't say it'd be hard to make ourselves put it down, though.  The Bristol Evening Post claims that "Hitchhiker's Guide fans will love it," which I can only respond to with expletives.  And the Derby Evening Telegraph states "Mission Earth is addictive reading - you dare not put the book down."  Which makes me feel quite heroic every time I set my copy aside to do something else.  Yeah, I dare.

After an order to buy The Invaders Plan and read it unless we have done so already, we get maps of Turkey, the eastern United States, and Manhattan Island.  On the corner of each is a little warning from Lord Invay, Chief Censor, assuring us that Earth does not exist and the maps are based on a work of fiction.  Above each is a counter-claim of "NOT TRUE!" or "FALSE!!" by one Monte Jo... Je... something-well.  It's in cursive, and I am apparently bad at reading cursive.  But on the upside, given the maps of actual Earth locations, I think the odds are good that we might make planetfall before the end of the book!

Eventually we reach the Voltarian Censor's Foreward, a brief two paragraphs about this book's fictitiousness, and then 54 Charlee Nine is back to explain the difficulties in translating the story; such as how Earthlings, who believe faster-than-light travel is impossible, have no word for the "hyperluminary life-color" ghrial, so it's been rendered as "yellow-green" instead.  The "robotbrain in the translatophone" also laughs how our puny Earth science is like "the dog chasing its tail or the man trying to jump on the head of his shadow," what with our concepts of electron rings and so forth, without elaborating how we're wrong. 

Charlee also mentions that Earth is supposedly 22 light-years from Voltar.  Now, those bloody stupid "will-be was" engines were developed for intergalactic trips, and the Voltarian Confederacy came from outside this galaxy to invade ours.  Yet despite being on Voltar for thousands of years now, and despite the mere 22 light-year distance between it and our world, they still haven't gotten around to conquering Earth yet?

Oh wait, they're mindlessly following the sacred Invasion Timetable handed down by their honored ancestors, waging their campaigns of conquest based on thousand-year plans rather than actual contemporary circumstances.  Hence why, when they feared Earth was going to self-destruct before they could invade it, they sent out a mission to covertly rescue it instead of launching the damned invasion ahead of schedule.

And in all of the empire's 125,000 year history, nobody has decided this is a stupid, stupid idea.

The next bit between the cover and the story proper is the "Key to BLACK GENESIS," part cast list, part encyclopedia.  It explains what a "hypnohelmet" is in case the reader can't hazard a guess him- or herself, confirms that a "lepertige" is a cat as tall as a man, and assures us that a "Manco devil" is a mythological creature from Manco.  It also finally defines "cellology" as "Voltarian medical science that can repair the body through the cellular generation of tissues, including entire body parts."  So doctors are for the most part uncaring, borderline-psychopathic quacks, but they can perform some real miracles.

More interesting are the characters listed - or rather how they're listed.  Good old Spurk is listed as dead, for the simple reason that Gris murdered him while stealing the bio-bugs last book.  But Ske and Meeley, who Gris gave counterfeit money to in hopes of getting them executed when they tried to cash it, are not.  So either they'll be listed as alive until they're confirmed as dead later, or they were never in any real danger to begin with.  Also, that random human abductee Gris bumped into in the hangar that one time is not listed, so maybe he's not significant after all.

I have to wonder, why not include something like this in the first book?  Is it because the concepts are more relevant then, so there's no reason to list them since they're popping up in the story?  Does this mean that concepts like "tup" and "jolt" aren't going to appear in this story?  So why are they listed?

After this Key, Part Twelve begins on page 13.  Which is a relief to me, as I was worried that I'd have to label which Part One, Chapter Seven I'd be talking about for a given post.  It's another prison letter from Soltan Gris to Lord Turn the Judiciary, giving an abridged version of The Invaders Plan.  There is no mention of the time he spent in the wilderness with Ske, or the time he almost starved to death and hallucinated Bugs Bunny, or the riot at the Artists' Club, or even the time he spent figuring out that the Countess Krak had hypnotized him.  And I have to ask - if these events aren't worth mentioning here, why did I have to read through them in the first place?

Gris spends an inordinate amount of time recounting the lift-off party and how high he was during it, helpfully reminding the reader about the parts they would have most recently read.  It ends with Gris describing how the drugs wore off, he realized that this was an "UNsecret secret mission," and scrambled off to find Heller.  And that's where we'll fade into Black Genesis.

So, here we go again, eh?

Note that, due to circumstances both beyond and entirely within my control, I have failed to pre-read Black Genesis.  This will be a blind run, which will both save me from the danger of misremembering things and lead me to speculate over future chapters more than usual.  Any shock and outrage will be nice and fresh.  Who knows how many murders Gris will commit this book, if he'll branch out into different crimes against humanity?  Could there be an even more offensive gay character than "Too-too" and "Oh Dear?"  We'll find out together!

Back to the Intermission
Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Nine