Friday, September 30, 2011

Part Eight, Chapter Two - Can You Feel the Tension Building?

Though he briefly considers committing suicide in an airbus crash, Gris decides to go along with Heller's plans. Instead of just refusing to show up, or making up some story about secret Apparatus business keeping him at work, or anything like that. So around nine that evening Gris is uncomfortably clean and wearing a new one-piece dinner suit... wow, a formal dining jumpsuit? And the Countess is wearing clothes (and shoes!) that light up as she speaks. Stylish.

Heller drives as they head out for their night on the town, but instead of going straight to Joy City where the nightclubs are, Heller takes them instead to the luxurious highrises and penthouses of Pausch Hills (get it, like posh?). Gris needs a dinner date, you see, and Heller lands in front of a particularly impressive private residence long enough to pick up a cloaked and hooded passenger. This disguise is discarded almost immediately to reveal the most famous female in all of Voltar, the charming and gorgeous actress Hightee Heller.

Upon being informed that she's Gris' date, Hightee just gives him a quick nod before gushing over the Countess Krak, and telling Heller he has "the finest taste in the world!", and the girls touch hands and smile and talk about life back on Manco and it's clear they're already bestest of friends. Hightee is obviously trying to bond with her future sister-in-law, while the Countess comes dangerously close to revealing her true identity (which I can't blame you if you've forgotten about) as a circus performer and animal trainer. The whole time Gris is sitting there gibbering, terrified at the implied security breaches of Heller talking with his sister over the phone about this sweet girl he met in the secret Apparatus dungeons.

Then someone asks where they're going, and Heller reveals they're hitting the Artistic Club because everyone goes in masquerade. Ske of all people apparently picked out some masks for everyone - well, they're aren't so much masks as they are automated face-painters, you stick your face into them, pull the "heater string," and the paint is transferred onto your skin. Hightee's is a "sexy wood nymph," the Countess gets a lepertige because Hubbard is very proud of the animal he's created and all the symbolism regarding Krak's dangerousness, Heller becomes the "steelman" by having two stars drawn around his eyes, and Gris' facepaint makes him a hideous, bucktoothed demon.

So "disguised," the foursome lands in one of the busiest districts of Joy City, a place frequented by photographers and the press. Two of them are among the most recognizable faces in all of Voltar, while the other two could be executed if their boss finds out where they've been. They've got a dinner date... with disaster! And possibly wackiness. Suspenseful, deadly comedy.

We're two-thirds of the way through a book that's ostensibly about aliens infiltrating Earth, a cunning "satire" about our society and the CIA.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Part Eight, Chapter One - It's a Date!

Gris returns to the hangar... hmm, that's almost as common a phrase as "Gris is thoroughly miserable." Anyway, the hangar is all a-bustle with different work crews moving stuff and hitting stuff with hammers, and Heller's in the middle of it directing the chaos, wearing his little red racing cap. The day's work centers on Tug One's "space time-converter" or something, and as always someone remarks how dangerous the will-be was engines are and, how insane Heller is for wanting to use them, and how the whole damned spaceship is just looking for an excuse to explode.

For a whole hour Gris does nothing but watch, having found "a pile of old Apparatus debris" to sit on, and glumly concludes that Heller is just stalling indefinitely, content with his digs aboard the luxury tugboat and a guard detail dedicated to ensuring he gets laid each and every evening. Gris witnesses two near-riots when some Fleet spacers show up and clash with the Apparatus guards, but of course Heller's charisma and wonderfulness is enough to defuse the situation before things get serious.

Then the Fleet guys haul "the box" aboard. I've spent five minutes or so looking over the first two pages of the chapter and can't figure out which box is being referred to here. It just suddenly appears after the Fleet guys get off their lorry. Wherever it came from, they manhandle it aboard Tug One, and Gris' becomes "very interested" in their cargo. Once aboard he finds that the floor plates for one of the passages have been removed, and there are six heavy boxes labeled A through F resting below the deck. How mysterious! And possibly ominous!

But as Gris wonders what could be inside those tantalizing Boxes of Mystery, none other than Heller shows up. And ignores the boxes completely. Instead he says, to the man who just returned from a three-week disappearance, "Soltan, I've got the feeling you've been avoiding me lately." Yes, Heller is concerned about his friendship with his good buddy Soltan Gris, who stammers that he looked into those missing documents Heller was wanting and gives him some incriminating evidence regarding the Apparatus and Earth. Heller pockets it without showing much interest, then concludes that Gris has been working too hard - "All drive and no drink makes disasters," after all.

I think there's something wrong with that aphorism.

And then Heller remembers that Gris owes him a dinner. Do you remember that Gris owes him a dinner? It's because of Gris' promotion I don't know how many chapters ago. Heller orders Gris to show up an hour after sundown and then they'll hit a nice nightclub, and Gris can only protest that he doesn't have any good uniforms to wear - but Heller assures him he can use Tug One's facilities and that he'll have some nice clothes ready for his good buddy. "It's a date! I'm glad we can become friends again! See you at sunset!"

After Heller leaves, Gris, who is of course completely broke save for a wad of counterfeit bills that would get him executed if he tried to use them, attempts to break into Tug One and steal something for a pawn shop, but of course the door is keyed to Krak and Heller's voices only.

So yeah, our story of RIVETING, SUPERBLY PLOTTED INTRIGUE, the main plot of which has not advanced in the past two to three Parts, has now decided to become a light comedy. Let's see what hilarity ensues as Gris gets dragged off to a dinner he can't pay for!

Back to Part Seven, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Eight - Grease is the Word

Hubbard is once again paying attention to Gris' hunger meter, and though he didn't mention it last chapter apparently Gris went the whole day without eating. So this chapter he wakes up bright and early and hungry, kicks Ske awake, and has him drive to the Apparatus offices.

Gris has a cunning plan, you see: get to work before everyone else and raid the clerks' supply of "jolt." He uses some sort of magnet to pick the locks, nearly scalds himself on the... already hot beverage. Hmm. No mention of him preparing it, so I guess the "jolt" sits on a heater all night? Gris even hits the jackpot: there's an uneaten bun crust sitting in the break room. Carbohydrates!

Now, at this point it is very reasonable to ask: why didn't he do this before, when he was starving the first time? And I don't have an answer for you, nor does Gris explain how he could think of this now but not earlier. Hubbard didn't include anything in Gris' narration like "why didn't I think of this before?" to call attention to the fact that the character is an idiot, so I don't think this oversight was intentional.

Having gone all Mission Impossible on the employee lounge, Gris decides to look into those records Heller asked about yesterday, to prove that he's been working. Because Gris is suddenly concerned about what Heller thinks about his work ethic. Anyway, the computer is SORree to say that all the records have been deleted. Gris asks about copies of the deleted files, and the computer gets positively zen: How can you give a nothing to show a nothing is?

Zen in the sense that it takes a bit of thought to work out the sentence's meaning, and you suspect that it might not have been translated properly.

Gris asks who scrapped the files, and is surprised when the computer admits it was Lombar Hisst. So he prints out a copy of the deletion order and plans to give it to Heller to show that he at least tried to get those Earth records. In other words, he's giving a potential enemy evidence that the Apparatus has an unhealthy interest in Earth, decades' worth of records on the planet predating Mission Earth, and has been covering its tracks about something. This is a trained intelligence agent, mind you, someone who's naturally suspicious bordering on paranoia, intimately acquainted with blackmail, and knows how to dispose of incriminating evidence.

I'm sure there won't be any repercussions from this decision.

On the way out of his office Gris overhears Bawtch and Too-Too having a pep talk - the lisping pretty boy is sobbing about his eminent "infiltration" of Lord Endow's bedroom, while Bawtch gives him a cover story involving dummy information and being smitten with the slobbering old man-chaser after seeing him in a parade. Too-Too is crying so hard he's ruining his powdered make-up.

Finally Too-Too said, "But I hear he is too big!"

"Yes, I know, you poor thing. Here is some grease. Now run along before that unspeakable (bleepard) thinks up something even worse!"

So, another riddle: is this supposed to make us laugh or throw up? Should we be snickering at Too-Too's predicament involving a certain orifice of his, or should we be retching at the perversity of these sexual deviants? Is one of these options better than the other, or is the correct response to either "What the hell, Hubbard?"

Well hey, now we know why Gris had that sudden idea of breaking in early - so he could overhear a conversation about buttsecks, and we could giggle/gag at it.

The chapter, and Part, ends with Bawtch freaking out about the ransacked jolt bar and threatening an internal investigation. Meanwhile Gris gives us some ominous narration as he heads out to the hangars, on his way to a "grim appointment" and that "Time had run out for me. Completely."

What's he talking about? I'll give you a hint - Heller mentioned it over three weeks ago. And you thought this Part was stupid.

Back to Part Seven, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Seven - A New Rebeginning

Gris and Ske's landing at the hangars is delayed by a Fleet freighter unloading a huge cylinder marked "HIGHLY DANGEROUS, HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE, DO NOT OPEN." After disembarking, Gris watches Heller personally lead the doohickey into place by riding it as it dangles from a crane. And since their society has flying cars and engines that manipulate time itself, I can't help but wonder at the fact that they're still moving things around with hooks and cables. If I was working at a futuristic spacedock I'd want some attachable anti-gravity suspensors to stick on heavy loads, let one man haul around a four-ton engine block, that sort of thing. Maybe they don't have the budget.

Gris chats a bit with a worker who explains that the day's job is almost over, the cylinder is a spare time converter for those ridiculous "Will-be Was" engines, and that Tug One is a deathtrap, don't go on it, etc. The Apparatus agent is a bit horrified at the news of contracted crews coming in to service the spaceship, to say nothing of Fleet personnel hanging about, but then Heller hops off the crane hook and notices him.

"Oh, say, Soltan," he said, for all the world like he was rebeginning a conversation interrupted a half hour earlier, "like I was telling you, all the cultural notes and conversations are missing from those earlier Blito-P3 surveys. See if you can get hold of them, will you?" And he yelled back up at the high cab, "Very well done and thank you, crane master!" and with a friendly hand wave to him, he trotted over to the tug and went in through the airlock.

I checked, and yes, technically "rebeginning" is a word. It could easily be exchanged for a synonym like "continued" or "restarting," but I guess Hubbard wants us to know that he's not afraid to use obscure, archaic words for his "dekalogy." Either that or he was making up words again but lucked out. It was also nice of Hubbard to let us know that Heller was waving his hand at the crane operator and not another body part.

And then the Fleet marine guard detail shows up with a "hup hup hup," and "Guardsman Ip" is sent to her post aboard Tug One, and the Countess boards "in perfect evolution" which is technically correct since "evolution" can refer to military movements but I'm still grumpy about it, and then all the other soldiers jump around in excitement and cheer in celebration of Heller getting some, and then they go home. It's been a month and they're still doing the "Heller got laid" dance.

His brief, nearly pointless visit to the hangars concluded, Gris shakes Ske down for some spare change and goes home, finds his landlady waiting for him and gives her the five-credit note he had, and goes to bed in his dump of a room.

Later I lay in the broken bed, staring into the dark. I had been gone three weeks. I could have been dead for all they knew. And not once this whole day had anybody said, "Where have you been?"

This, and the simple fact that Gris is a character in a story where the author is obviously against him, almost makes me want to side with Gris. But Hubbard anticipated this and made Gris a thoroughly revolting person: in every other chapter or so Gris finds a paragraph to express his hopes that his "riff-raff" coworkers get killed in Lombar Hisst's coming purge, or in the case of this chapter that the sprawling, filthy slums of Ardaucus get annihilated. To say nothing of all the, you know, blackmail and murder and such - I hear in a future book Gris becomes a sex offender. (edit from the future: oh Past Me, you have no idea what you're in for)

So that last paragraph aside, I guess we're not meant to feel sorry for Gris at all, since the author has taken such pains to make him unsympathetic. But I can't take the same delight that Hubbard does in Gris' suffering either, since the guy's nothing but the plaything of a cruel and vindictive god using him as a surrogate punching bag for the author's real-world enemies. So it's a bit of a wash, where I'm disgusted by both the things Gris does and the stuff that happens to him.

Which makes it really hard to find a reason to keep reading, Hubbard. I don't care what happens to this character. I don't like this character. So why would I want to turn the page and see what happens to him next?

Well the thing is, I've got this blog...

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, September 26, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Six - Pimpmobile

It's been a while since I've gotten to say "Gris is miserable," what with the whole month-long vacation and all, but now everything's back to normal, he and his driver are being flown back to Government City, and Gris is feeling down in the dumps.

When some authors - good authors - make their characters miserable, it's not just an attempt to wring some drama from the story. Put a character under stress, take away some of their options, hurt them, scare them, and you get to see what they're made of, what they'll do in extreme circumstances, who they are when things are at their darkest.

Hubbard makes Gris miserable because Gris represents everything - well, some of the things - he hates. Gris' ground state is miserable, so we never see any character development come from it, and because it's the default state of affairs it's neither dramatic nor interesting. Gris suffers because Hubbard thinks we'll enjoy it as much as he does.

Anyway, all the blood, sweat and tears shed by Ske over that vehicle ID number have paid off. They lug the hunk of metal down to the Apparatus Vehicle Center and greatly impress the guy behind the desk, who declares that a promotion is in order and that they'll be getting a better vehicle. The clerk is also incredibly flamboyant, cooing and slapping the "naughty boy"'s wrist and giving people big sloppy kisses and offering to show Ske the fold-down back seats of the new airbus. Said car's pretty flamboyant too, a Model 794-86 with "purple light spinners and green landing wheels with a bright red band all around it." And it has a minibar!

And then, because it was so entertaining and interesting the first time, we go back to Gris' office. Bawtch yells at him for showing up and upsetting things, then for not doing work, and tries to get Gris to stamp some blank forms. The contractors have put in the easy-break glass and escape tunnel to the roof, which I'm sure will be a very important plot point in Book 7 or something. The lisping duo of "Too-Too" and "Oh Dear" are around to tremble and faint at the sight of Gris. And Gris has a new master console he doesn't remember signing for.

Sadly, this computer doesn't give us any entertaining backtalk or anything, and Gris just uses it to check his pay status - which is apparently harder than it sounds, given that there's 22,681 people named "Soltan Gris" in government records. He's overdrawn in pay by a whole credit, which he refunds, only to learn that it'll take two months to process so he's still in critical danger of running into the Finance Department Court-Martial Unit.

And then Ske shows up and suggests that they go to the hangars. Hey, that's right, it's been a whole month. Maybe the work on Tug One is done, and Heller's wondering where Gris has gone off to, and in a few chapters we'll be off for Earth and the plot will begin in earnest and hahahaha oh god no.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, September 23, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Five - Vacation's Over, Get Back to Work

Being stranded in the mountains offers Gris and his driver a three-week vacation, spent hunting and consuming the local game and enjoying the majestic scenery as they move from camp to camp. Gris kills over five hundred songbirds to express his appreciation for nature, while Ske the Nameless Driver gets to lug around all the sweetbuns and sparklewater and dead game, not to mention a twenty-foot length (!) of their air bus' frame, the part with the identification number that he needs to requisition a replacement, torn from the wreckage with a great deal of effort.

So Ske has a bit of a bad attitude during their journeys, but Gris tries to put him straight with the power of Psychology!, explaining that Ske is obviously suffering from an "atavism deficiency," or that the reptilian part of his brain that likes to blindly follow orders is underdeveloped. It doesn't help and Ske keeps grumbling. Oh, those wacky psychologists and their big words and their silly delusions. It's not like they're any sort of threat, or could end up as the series' Big Bads or anything.

Of course, Ske's also dumb about campfires, and likes to use green bark that sends columns of white smoke into the sky every sunset. Three weeks after their ill-fated hunting trip Gris wakes up with a gun in his face, confronted by two forest wardens employed by a Lord Mok, who isn't happy with these poachers. But then Ske, who is close to being hanged by this point, blurts out that Gris is an officer of the Apparatus on a secret mission, and more guys come out of hiding, and everyone shows everyone their badges, and the wardens are nice enough to arrange for a transport to take them back to Government City the next day.

So. Gris and Ske go hunting while looking for wrecks. Someone tries to kill them and strands them in the wilderness. They get picked up three weeks later and sent back to work. There, the past two chapters summed up in three sentences.

Hubbard? What's the point? Why did this chapter happen? Why were you willing to skip three weeks of having your characters romping around in the mountains instead of skipping to the completion of Tug One's repairs? Why introduce a subplot about somebody trying to kill Gris instead of getting the main plot moving? Did you think we needed a comedic interlude of Gris throwing the phrase "atavism" around and watching Ske haul an oversized hunk of metal? Did you want to make a statement about recreational hunting? Why?

Tune in next chapter for a flamboyant clerk, a hideous new car, and more paperwork. Then we'll meet up with Heller again like the intervening chapters never even happened.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Four - Screw This, I'm Outta Here

Though he gained nothing from his interview with the captured patrolcraft crew, Gris' mind is eased with the thought that they'll soon be dead and unable to give incriminating testimony. Next he focuses his attention on the matter of the ship itself, to ensure that it's good and crashed in the desert somewhere, because wreckage lacking any human remains is much less suspicious than a simple disappearance.

All because this feared secret organization that has its talons sunk deep into the Voltarian government is so mismanaged, unmotivated, and just plain sloppy that it's common for this sort of project to be half-assed and unfinished. Because there's no one else in the entire Apparatus who can ensure that a routine disappearance gets done correctly. Because if the ship isn't disposed of properly, all of the blame and consequences will bypass everyone else in the agency to fall directly on Gris.

With his "needle blastrifle" and game bag, not to mention Heller's gift of sweetbuns and sparklewater, Gris and his driver head out towards the Blike Mountains as part of Gris' "hunting expedition," while the hunter in question scans the sands for signs of a wrecked spaceship. But he finds nothing, and reasons that the vessel must have been sold off to smugglers or something. Well, not quite nothing - he spots a songbird called a "thriller," which he blasts and stuffs in his bag. And then he finds two more birds to kill at the next too-old crash site they find.

Ske the Nameless Driver sarcastically asks if they're going hunting or looking for wrecks, and Gris realizes that they're doing the former. So they go deeper into the mountains, a rough and rocky country of gorges and woodland, divided up amongst numerous lords for their private hunting preserves. But Ske mentions he thinks they're being followed, so by dusk the two of them have landed their transport in an isolated, out-of-sight little... plateau. And then they make a campfire to roast some of those innocent songbirds - not game birds - Gris has blown away.

Shockingly enough, despite these precautions someone starts shooting at them! And they're not joking around either, they're using a "fangun," which "puts out electric fire in a forty-degree front arc" and is potent enough to shear the tops off the rocks Gris and Ske take shelter behind. This is after Ske pops up to yell "Hey! This is just us!" in case it's all a misunderstanding.

I like Ske. He's a fool, but an honest one - his happy-go-lucky stupidity is just part of his character, rather than something that suddenly strikes to allow Hubbard's insipid story to function.

Anyway, Gris gets an idea as he huddles there near the sheer cliffs ringing the plateau, and fakes a "dwindling scream" even as he and Ske dive into a nearby cave. They hide there until their unseen attacker assumes they've fallen to their deaths and wanders off, but not before blowing up their airbus. Ske is rather upset to find that they've been stranded in the wilderness, but Gris just laughs and laughs and laugh - their attackers robbed them of counterfeit money, so if they try to spend it they're screwed. Plus:

Gone was Tug One. Gone was Heller. Far away was the Countess Krak. If found, I could explain to Lombar we were looking for the patrol craft he had ordered crashed and burned.

I was looking ahead to happy years in this wilderness full of game. All my problems were solved.

So there you have it - even Gris is fed up with this story, has concluded that the plot is going nowhere, and plans on becoming a mountain man rather than play any more part in The Invaders Plan. Now I'm not a professional writer, but I have a feeling that if your characters are ready to walk off the set, so to speak, you may want to consider some rewrites. Or just scrap your story and start over.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Three - Very Dangerous Walls

When Gris finds the patrol craft crew, he's confronted with the sight of twenty naked men just kind of chilling out in what can assumed to be a fairly spacious cell. They're still rather defiant despite being largely forgotten by their captives, and are well-fed and vigorous thanks to a steady diet of dungeon vermin supplemented by water seeping through the cell... which, given the conditions of the rest of Spiteos, should be roughly 80% sewage by the time it dribbled down into the dungeons, but whatever, Hubbard.

Gris asks for names, the ship number, that sort of stuff, and learns that the Fleet men don't know where they are. He offers them some (fake) money in exchange for everything they know about Jettero Heller but has to up his ante before they all take turns giving him "vital" information.

And of all the sickening drivel I have ever listened to in my whole life, that period in Spiteos talking with that crew topped it.

Heller was a tall, very handsome officer. Heller knew exactly what he was doing. Heller was brave and afraid of nothing. Heller had an excellent singing voice. Heller did thoughtful things, illustrated by bandaging up the medical rating when an airlock slammed on him. Heller was amusing in that he told jokes when things looked grim--examples included.

Absolutely, utterly sickening!

You said it, Gris. More stuff about how wonderful and amazing Jettero Heller is being shoved down the reader's throat. And since this is of course a satire, I have to wonder if this is what Hubbard imagined the FBI or CIA's questioning of Scientologists was like - his loyal sycophants gushing about how visionary and handsome he was, without revealing any sensitive or useful information.

Also note that none of the crew make any complaints along the lines of "More questions? We've already told you all we know!" There's no indication these blokes have been interrogated, either routinely or when Gris was actively searching for stuff about Heller. It never occurred to this seasoned intelligence operative to look up Heller's crew then. But the Apparatus is still making a half-assed effort to keep the crew alive, because... they might be useful hostages?

Despite how utterly useless the first batch of information has been, Gris shells out some more death warrants for another round of gushing about Heller, but he thinks they're still holding something back. So he starts to pay them with the poisoned girl, but then the mute sex slave, who had been kept out of sight in a nearby empty cell, dumbly wanders into view. Transfixed at the sight of a bedraggled young female in a loincloth and sporting a shapely scar across her throat, Craftleader Soams, the group's nominal captain, promises to exchange some vital intelligence on Heller if Gris gives them the bag of goods and the girl.

How's he going to manage that without opening the door? Why, by squeezing her through the food slot at the bottom of the door, of course! The one that none of the crewmen can fit through even after weeks of eating space rats. Just don't think about it too much.

Gris agrees, stuffs the girl into a cage filled with twenty naked men, and steps in close to the bars to receive an important message: "When Heller gets word of what has happened to us, he will kill you with his bare hands! Run like mad and maybe it will save your life!" Gris considers entering the cell to get his goods back, but is of course outnumbered twenty to one, and decides against leisurely picking the crewmen off by shooting them through the bars because he can't "see all the walls in there and they looked dangerous."

So Gris storms off, content with the knowledge that everyone in the cell will be dead either of food poisoning or counterfeiting, even as he grouses that his original dream analysis about an Oedipus Complex was the correct one.

In other words, these past three or more chapters have been a complete waste of time. Pointless. Futile. Wasted paper. No plot development, no character development, just paperwork and hallucinations and second-hand murder. I think. I honestly can't remember if the crew somehow survives to resurface later in the book, and who knows, maybe they'll make a remarkable reappearance in book ten that will leave the reader gasping "who the hell are these guys, again?"

And if you thought this chapter was pointless, just you wait until we get to the next two!

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter Two - The Tragedy of Human Trafficking

Maybe these chapters would be more exciting if viewed as Gris' personal vision quest? Yeah, like he starved himself until he was properly attuned with the supernatural, and Manco Devil is his spirit guide, and now he's off in search of revelations. And to murder people. Killing someone being held in Spiteos is practically an act of mercy, after all.

So Ske and Gris take off for Spiteos, in the off-chance that the patrol craft crew is still alive and might know something that would allow Gris to control Heller. But not before Ske comments that Gris' second-hand uniform smells like "sewer gas and cadavers." On the upside, dogs will probably love him.

Along the way, Gris keeps an eye out for any sign of a crashed ship in the desert, but sees only that "the whitish expanses were white" and "the sand-dancers danced but not over any trace of a wreck." He decides to look into the issue later and focuses on the task at hand. After landing at Camp Endurance/Kill/Notasecretapparatusheadquartershonest he stuffs his Super Spy Suitcase with fake bills and poisoned food and goes in to get the other thing he needs: a whore.

They often take hill girls from other planets and cut out their larynx: they can't speak Voltarian anyway. Only a prostitute that is mute can be passed through the tunnel. Others at Camp Kill might suspect what was in Spiteos but none must be able to talk about it. It was common enough to entice a prisoner with a woman if it was thought he would not talk under torture. A lot of riffraff would do anything in exchange for a female.

Question time:

1. "Hill girl." Why is this significant? Are there a dozen splatbooks' worth of girlish subraces - high girls, dark girls, wood girls, sand girls? Is this meant to indicate that said girl is from out in the boonies, a country bumpkin abducted and forced into a life of sexual slavery? Or is it something worse, an implication that this "hill girl" is something subhuman (she doesn't even speak Voltarian, after all), which excuses her mistreatment?

2. Why cut out her larynx? If she doesn't speak Voltarian, isn't it redundant? And who is she going to blab to anyway, if the Apparatus has near-total control over who comes in and out of Camp Whatever? And suppose anyone did come snooping, wouldn't they be a bit suspicious to see a bunch of mutes with scars over their throats?

3. Remind me again why Spiteos is a super ultra secret? If the Apparatus is super-powerful and has blackmailed the rest of the government into compliance, they shouldn't have to hide their headquarters. Anyway, why wouldn't an intelligence agency have a headquarters? Why wouldn't they have a prison? On the other hand, if they're so shabby and ill-motivated and incompetent, why hasn't anyone put the pieces together and noticed an awful lot of traffic going towards a miserable little military post in the middle of the desert?

Whatever. The obese hag in charge of the camp has a bad attitude, so Gris decides to indirectly kill her by paying her with a fake fifty. He gets a subdued girl probably kidnapped "from the back country of Flisten," along with a bag of what I will euphemistically label accessories. Gris shows his incredible cunning by having her carry the bag of bad money, so that if it is somehow traced it will lead back to this mute, "primitive" prisoner who held it for a couple of minutes that one day.

They reach a checkpoint, Gris lets the guards do a thorough search of the girl so they don't check out the bag of counterfeit money, and afterward Gris is impressed because the girl is blushing after her groping session, even though most Camp Kill hookers quickly become "cold meat."

Now, I've read books with some dark stuff in it - off the top of my head, one of the Dune prequels had a rescue mission into a Harkonnen rape camp. So I have to wonder why this book in particular enrages me so. Am I just that biased against Hubbard? Or maybe it's the narrator's blasé reaction to it, like all this stuff with the sex slave is another inconvenience, while the Harkonnen experience was played for horror. Or maybe I'm offended that the author considers this a serious satire - no, a humorous satire - of the real-life CIA and how things work in America. Or maybe I'm wondering how much this reflects the author's views on women, and if the narrator isn't particularly horrified by it because Hubbard wasn't. Goodness knows Battlefield Earth wasn't exactly a feminist work, but you'd think he'd show more of a reaction here.

Anyway. They make it through the checkpoint without further incident, but over the bus ride to Spiteos proper Gris realizes he's been had - the girl is scared of the bus and becomes increasingly recalcitrant, so once they disembark Gris is forced to keep nudging her forward. He surmises that the hag at the camp has given him a troublesome hooker, which retroactively justifies him dooming her to death with that fake money.

Then it's trouble finding the spaceship crew in question, as Gris struggles with an unhelpful "half-naked, yellow-man clerk" who can't find any relevant records, and then wanders around until he finds a guardroom. The captain eventually produces records of the captive patrol craft crew, and gives Gris directions to what turns out to be a designated military section of Spiteos' dungeons. It's a dump. "Some large type of vermin leaped out of a sagging cell door. It scared me."

So alternative theory: maybe Gris has no reaction to the surgically-silenced sex slave because he is incapable of properly conveying emotion.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, September 19, 2011

Part Seven, Chapter One - But is it Quilted for Softness?

So has Gris been saved from starvation only to face death a few weeks later from malnutrition? 'cause I can't imagine a diet of pastries and soda being good for anybody's health. I'm gonna keep track of his diet, see when and what he's eating, since Hubbard decided to spend chapters deeply confirmed with Gris' daily calorie intake.

Gris and his driver head over to the Provocation Section, with Gris noting that nobody was hanging about or tailing them, thus displaying vital secret agent skills that he will conveniently discard when the plot requires. While in transit, Gris relates a story proving his resourcefulness.

Half a year ago, while upset about missing a promotion, Gris was lurking around a run-down hotel in the boonies in the aftermath of a brawl and just so happened to come across some blackmail material. He tailed a furtive figure into the woods, saw him have a confrontation with a woman who was evidently waiting for someone else, and then took plenty of pictures of the subsequent rape and murder... you know, there isn't nearly enough rape and murder in the satire you get these days.

Anyway, Gris identified the victim as the mistress of the commander of the Apparatus' Death Battalions, while the rapist/murderer was Raza Torr, chief of the Provocation Section, the arm of the Apparatus that infiltrates criminal groups or frames people. So that's who Gris goes to meet, in offices hidden in the middle of some riverside warehouses. Torr isn't happy to see him, despite Gris' pleasant small talk ("meet any good girls lately?"), but lets him have the run of the place. So Gris heads for the counterfeit currency collection.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, Voltar's businesses can easily detect fake bills, and all they have to do is tell the customer to wait for change until the Finance Police swoop in to jail, torture, try, and execute the counterfeiter. It's such a streamlined and effective process that the Provocation Section has a habit of planting fake bills to make people disappear. Naturally, no one in the general public has learned the tricks that a trained clerk uses to spot bad currency, or has access to the scanning machinery.

After passing through rooms filled with confiscated loot and booby-trapped weapons, Gris reaches the rolls of "toilet paper." He grabs plenty of fake money, and a friendly escort also gives him a dead agent's uniform that's in better shape than his own (its previous owner died of poison gas, so there's no bloodstains or anything), as well as some poisoned food and a super-special trunk with a rotating bottom so that if someone inspects it they keep seeing the same... side... well, I'm not sure how that'd work or why anyone would be fooled by seeing the same pair of underpants not matter which lid they open, but whatever. Gris is now a bona fide secret agent. I'm sure this trunk will be a very important plot point later.

Thus equipped, Gris is on a course back to Spiteos to question the crew of Heller's patrol ship for vital information about Heller... wait, what vital information? What could the crew possibly know that wouldn't be in Heller's file, and what possible use would it be to Gris? Haven't they already been interrogated? But hey, Gris is only acting on his starvation-induced hallucination, so I guess we can't examine the logic too closely. Let's go watch him do stuff he should have already done or shouldn't need to do in the first place. And try to kill people.

The main character's going in circles while the plot sits in a distant hangar going absolutely nowhere. Mission Earth, ladies and gents.

Back to Part Six, Chapter Seven

Friday, September 16, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Seven - Learning What You Already Know

So like I said, Gris spends the next two days after his recovery consuming Heller's gift of sustenance without even a fleeting thought of gratitude, and doing paperwork. It's only after Bawtch mentions how Gris' landlady got paid by Ske that Gris thinks to check his pockets for the banknote his driver was showing off the other night. Faced with the terrifying prospect of moving back into his old digs, Gris stops to think for a while, interrupted only by the contractors coming in to renovate his bathroom, which I sincerely hopes becomes a valid plot point later because otherwise why the hell is it in the book?

Gris decides to analyze his hallucinatory chat with Manco Devil from the other night and get some closure out of it. He quickly concludes that Manco Devil was a father figure, the various spaceships were phallic symbols, so obviously he lusts after his mother and is jealous of his father. But despite this swift and decisive self-diagnosis Gris is still feeling edgy, and he decides it's due to the patrol craft he dreamt about. So he suddenly freaks out about the crew of Heller's ship that the Apparatus took care of way, way back in Part One... you remember that, don't you?

Anyway, Gris looks at some old Apparatus documents but can find no report of the patrol craft in question being discovered "crashed" in the desert. So he panics some more - what if the Death Battalions sold the prisoners and ship to smugglers, and the Fleet somehow catches word of the Apparatus' crimes, and then the entirety of Voltar's Fleet personnel comes to beat up Gris?

But then Gris remembers some other details of his dream - demands for money, allusions to something he doesn't know, and counterfeit money. And then it all comes together: "Deep in the primordial reptile brain which every sentient person has, I had worked it all out already! Because of a normal fear of erotic self-gratification, I had just not let myself know about it." So he creates the "elaborate charade" of taking a hunting trip ("I like to kill small songbirds"), grabs his gun, and leaves the office, ending the chapter and this section.

So all of that hallucinating, all of those ever-so-entertaining fever dreams and whatnot, was so Gris could remember to double-check on something that happened in Part One, Chapter Three, because maybe there's a security risk. So we'll get to spend the next Part dealing with something that should have been taken care of two hundred pages ago. And then in the Part after that we'll get back to the "Tug One sitting in a hangar" plot like nothing's happened.

I just wanna go to Earth, Hubbard. You promised an alien invasion, why aren't we on Earth yet? Can't we just skip to the spaceship being ready to go? Why did we need to see Gris do paperwork and pass out repeatedly? What exactly is this a satire of? Are we supposed to be laughing at psychology or worried about its threat to our civilization? Just, why?

This is a book that provokes an existential crisis.

Back to Chapter Six

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Six - Demonic Dinosaurs

You know who else Hubbard hates besides psychologists? And journalists? And intelligence agents, or any representative of the government for that matter? Here's a hint - one appears in this chapter.

Gris wakes up from his chat with Manco Devil to find Bawtch the clerk living up to his name and complaining how Gris only managed to stamp half a stack of paperwork yesterday. Then Gris passes out. When he wakes up Bawtch is complaining to other clerks about how the paperwork will never get done if Gris dies on them like a loser. Then Gris passes out again.

When he comes to (again), Gris finds that his concerned (about the smell if he keels over at his desk) colleagues have summoned a doctor. But not just any doctor: "he was what they called a 'medical doctor' because they push out medicine; this was one the prostitutes of the district used; he gave them pills which caused abortions when they got pregnant." After spotting Gris' swollen tongue, the doctor "learnedly" declares that it's a case of "diploduckus infernam," a new, highly-contagious disease that causes its victims to break out in black spots and suppurate within days.

Fortunately, the doc has a plan: he'll "make out a list of pills, powders, and wonder drugs. They don't work but he will feel more comfortable." So a medic then. But one of Gris' coworkers lets slip that he's broke, and the doctor storms out. And Gris passes out again again.

Hour later, he comes to again again to find his driver, who has a name but doesn't deserve for it to be mentioned in this chapter (it's Ske), kneeling over him. Ske's been to the hangar and told Heller what happened, and darn it if Heller isn't concerned enough to send a whole case of sparklewater and ten pounds (!) of sweetbuns. And so, as Gris hallucinates Ske turning into a Turkish dancing girl and passes in and out of consciousness, the downtrodden driver nurses his undeserving superior back to a modicum of health over the rest of the afternoon and early evening. In any other book, this would be a touching moment, and could possibly lead to some character development as Gris learns the value of simple Voltarian kindness. Maybe he'd reconsider his relationship with his driver. Maybe he'd see Heller in a new light after been given this lifesaving gift.

Instead it just kind of happens. The chapter ends with Ske presenting the five leftover credits from Heller's expenditures for the day, which makes Gris not miserable. But he doesn't take the credits, no. Next chapter, which takes place two days later, Gris will suddenly realize that his driver instead used the money to get Gris' room back. You'd think Gris would snatch up the cash as soon as he saw it, but apparently not.

And now for some more Fridge Logic: Gris is dehydrated, having not had anything to drink for two whole days. Gris also has a working bathroom for his office. So does it not have a sink? If Fallout's taught me anything it's that a toilet, though high in Rads and low in healing power, can serve as an emergency method of recovering hit points. Gris has literally had water a few feet away from him this whole time. Disgusting Apparatus toilet water, but water nonetheless.

And then there's the issue of Gris being broke. He is an Apparatus agent, renowned for blackmailing or murdering or stealing to get what they want. He could probably walk into a convenience store, shoot the clerk in the head, and take what he wanted, and all he'd have to do would be make up some garbage about sedition to justify his actions. They probably have forms to fill out back at Spiteos to retroactively excuse all sorts of crimes. He could go out on the streets, follow someone into a back alley, kill them and loot the corpse, and be back home in time for supper. Hell, he could go to a restaurant and run out on the bill. But nope, he doesn't do any of that, he goes to work and suffers. He's remarkably law-abiding these chapters.

On an unrelated note, I have a theory explaining Hubbard's hatred of doctors: the same reason he hates psychiatrists. They're competition. One field tries to heal your mental ills by looking back at your childhood, or unraveling the way you think, to get you to look at things a different way. Another treats your physical injuries with a bunch of medicines and rehab programs and diets. But all you really need is a copy of Dianetics, and the power of positive thinking will let you overcome anything from hemophilia to nearsightedness. And anything else wrong with you is due to alien souls that can be exorcised for a modest... well, maybe not modest, but it's certainly worth every penny! You don't want those nasty thetans bumming you out your whole life, do you?

So does he hate the government for the same reason? Now that's a scary thought.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Five - Not to be Confused with the Blues Devil

We've now reached the halfway point of The Invaders Plan, page 307 of 615. This is usually the part of a traditional story arc where the plot's steadily building towards a climax; in an action story the hero is probably preparing to strike against the villain's lair, while in a detective story the hero has gotten most of the puzzle pieces together and is on their way to figuring things out for the finale.

And here we are, watching a starving man hallucinate.

The plot has wandered away from us - we know the cast is supposed to get to Earth, but we've seen nothing but delay after delay to keep that from happening. Tug One is grounded for refurbishing, and Gris has basically given up on his attempts to get the show on the road. I'm not sure if we're supposed to share Gris' sense of urgency about moving Mission Earth forward or be pleased that the heroic and dashingly handsome Jettero Heller is thwarting the disgusting little Apparatus agent. I'm not sure who the villain is, since we have a hero antagonist and villain protagonist, so are we supposed to be rooting for the guy keeping anything from happening?

It's a mess; confusing, tedious, not to mention dull as all hell. We've had an attempted shooting and a few fistfights but nothing's really happened for pages and pages. Heller gets captured, that's a plot point. Mission Earth is born, that's a plot point. Heller meets Krak, I guess that's a plot point. And Heller finds his spaceship, that's another plot point. And it's taken Hubbard over three hundred pages to accomplish this little.

Anyway, the chapter. It's short. Gris is awakened by a Manco Devil entering his office. The "Manco" part is important because this isn't one of those "ordinary woods Devils so common to other planets," but a traditional horned and red-skinned and spike-tailed Devil straight out of Western mythology. Because aliens from Manco settled on Earth eons ago and saved us stupid, pathetic humans the trouble of coming up with our own culture or technology or anything and I hate it when sci-fi does this.

Manco Devil asks about a specific form to see if Gris knows something, but Gris confesses he doesn't have it or know what it means. Then the crew of Heller's patrol ship shows up and joins the chorus taunting Gris over not knowing something. And then Manco Devil shapeshifts into Lombar Hisst and Doctor Crobe and Tug One flies in and explodes, before the conversation turns to the matter of payment. Gris explains that he's broke so Manco Devil stabs him with a torch, not a pitchfork. In the end Gris shrieks that he'll pay Manco Devil's bill, but when he starts throwing wads of counterfeit cash at Manco Devil he finds his office empty. Then he goes to sleep.

I will say that it isn't a bad hallucination sequence. It's not one that makes you feel like you're hallucinating along with the character and gives you another person's headache, but a humorous hallucination, in which all the peculiarities and logic-breaking events of the waking dream are stated matter-of-factly and accepted by the narrator. When the Fleet crew piles into the office from the adjoining bathroom, for example, Gris surmises that they came in through the secret door to the basement that he'll have to get installed the next day.

On the other hand, this chapter - heck, most of Part Six really - just serves to jog Gris' memory so he'll do something later. It's a hallucination that serves a narrative purpose that could have been fulfilled faster and more elegantly. But I guess Hubbard was banking on us enjoying Gris slowly starving to death.

I do not wonder how L. Ron "I'm drinking lots of rum and popping pinks and greys" Hubbard was able to come up with a decent fever dream.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Four - Bugs Bunny and Sigmund Freud

This is another section that makes us wonder about Carrot. It's kind of easy for Captain Ironfoundersson to get overshadowed by the awesomeness that is Samuel Vimes (ironic, given that Carrot was supposed to be the central character of Guards! Guards!) because Carrot's "just" a stereotypical fantasy hero. The twist, though, is to what degree Carrot's aware of this fact. This is the Discworld after all, where stories have power and people are savvy enough to twist them to their-

Oh, my bad. Picked up The Fifth Elephant by mistake.

So, Gris. Name evokes "grease" and "gristle," both slimy, unlikeable stuff. Not very subtle, but more subtle than "Psychlo" or "Catrists," so good work Hubbard.

Well, Gris has passed through miserable all the way to borderline suicidal. He wants to go to the hangar and check on Heller, but every time he so much as thinks about it he is overtaken by stomach pains. Convinced that someone's going to figure out that Mission Earth is just spinning its wheels (much like how Mission Earth is just spinning its wheels), or that the Countess will be "caught," Gris considers just hurling himself from his window.

But he perseveres, even though he's gone almost two days now without food or drink. He stamps his paperwork to the cheers of a crowd of admiring junior clerks, and then a Turkish dancing girl sways in with a tray of enticing baklava. It's at this point that Gris speculates that he might be going insane.

This leads to an interlude involving Bugs Bunny.

See, the agents of the Apparatus assigned to infiltrate Earth are instructed with native texts, such as Kindergarten primers or comic books. And Gris made the "hilarious" mistake of reading a Looney Tunes comic and assuming Bugs Bunny represented the dominant lifeform on Earth, rather than Elmer Fudd. Ha ahaha. Even afterward, Gris holds a soft spot for that wascally wabbit due to Bugs' skill at manipulating others.

And now a beloved, timeless cartoon hero has connections to L. Ron Hubbard.

But that's not all Gris studied - he was also given an opportunity to study other Earth subjects, and he chose, drumroll please, psychology, which is all about manipulating people in ways that would impress even Bugs Bunny:

It is a government monopoly but it is taught in their universities. They claim everybody is evil. They say sentient beings are animals and have no soul. And while this last is unique to Earth and is not believed on any other planet anywhere, I so often fervently hope that I will never live another life anywhere that I was eager to accept it. And naturally, like Lombar, I believed everybody was evil.

The obvious question is whether this is a deliberate misinterpretation of the field of mental health, or if Hubbard truly believed what he typed here. I don't know. It meshes pretty well with what he said in Battlefield Earth, and is actually more restrained than some of his rants I've read on Wikiquote. So maybe this is another glimpse through his eyes, in which case I have to say he's about as well-informed about psychology as Jack Chick is about Dungeons and Dragons. But on the other hand, this chapter also makes a point about psychology's impotence and uselessness, so it's difficult to say which perception is "true" to Hubbard.

Thanks to his understanding of psychology, Gris is able to deduce that the dancing girl hallucination is the product of "fulfillment-denial," and that he really wants to escape from this place. By mastering the evil, cynical arts of psychology, Gris is able to state the blindingly obvious. After experiencing this stunning revelation, Gris... continues to work at his desk. Yeah. He starts thinking about how isolated he'll be from what's happening at the office once he's on Earth, and wonders what Bugs Bunny would do in the this situation. Gris' solution: blackmail and gay sex.

Why did you have to drag Bugs into this, Hubbard? I liked Bugs Bunny. Everyone does. And now he's tainted just from appearing in this chapter.

There are two special clerks working in Section 451, "Too-Too" Twolah and "Oh Dear" Odur, both girlishly pretty young men whose student careers were ruined by homosexual affairs. They don't speak, they "mince" or "lisp" their dialogue. And Gris has a special mission for them: take turns as couriers aboard the routine Apparatus freighters to Earth, while the other stays on Voltar and gathers intelligence and rumors by serving as Lord Endow's lover. Gris sets up something called a "magic mail" system involving self-delivering messages that can be canceled with a special code or something like that; if the two don't perform well, he lets a certain order go through, but if they do alright they get a code to cancel it.

The offensive gay stereotypes aren't thrilled at the idea, so Gris asks them if they love their mothers, in an attempt to take advantage of what I assume to be Freudian psychology; the pair think Gris is threatening their families. Then Gris throws down his knife, which he intends to be a powerful and overwhelming phallic symbol; the boys see a death threat and fall to their knees, weeping.

So Gris' mastery of psychology is pretty much useless, and would be funny if psychology were presented as a quack pseudoscience not to be taken seriously. Except Hubbard still treats it as mind cancer that corrupts and conquers entire civilizations. Which works about as well as giving Emperor Palpatine a clown nose and a polka-dot robe while leaving the rest of the Star Wars trilogy unchanged.

Old Bawtch spends a minute just staring at Gris when he shows the boys out. Next chapter we have a nightmare sequence. Instead of, you know, getting to Earth and laughing at the foibles of 1980's America as seen through alien eyes or anything like that.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, September 12, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Three - Unused Allocation C231

So here we are, one of my favorite chapters in the book, and indeed the entire series. Yes, even more so than the climactic confrontation at the end of the previous book - that's the stuff of legends, true, but this is different. Harry's not rushing out to battle his enemies, he's setting his will against his allies, with an innocent-ish life hanging in the balance. It's a battle he can't win with copious amounts of fire magic, but will require diplomacy, something we know by now he isn't nearly as skilled at. So though the stakes aren't as high, it's a more tense struggle than seeing Dresden ride out to throw down with dark mages for the nth time, which while entertaining-

Oh. My mistake, I picked up my copy of Proven Guilty instead of The Invaders Plan. Soltan Gris, not Harry Dresden, right. So we're... uh, doing paperwork, as opposed to dealing with rogue wizards.

Gris wakes up in his office in Government City, where we meet a new minor character we hopefully will never see again once this godforsaken narrative gets off this miserable planet - Bawtch, a stooped old bureaucrat with a sharp nose and tufts of hair above his ears, who of course hates Gris' guts. He complains about Gris sleeping at work, and the huge piles of paperwork Gris has let build up, and there's one line I like from this chapter, which is "[Bawtch] doesn't talk, really: he bites."

Well, maybe "like" is too strong a word. It's okay, I guess. But moving along.

So Gris stamps things with his identoplate, such as the "customer expenses" (a.k.a. hooker bill) of the Apparatus' man in Turkey, as well as renovations for the Section 451 offices (which Gris has forgotten about what with Jettero Heller coming into his life). This gives him an idea... uh, the renovations, not the prostitutes.

Seeing that there's still some funds left in the office renovation budget, Gris calls up some contractors and eventually finds one who doesn't hang up when he tells them his name. Gris shows the guy his office bathroom, with its view of the River Wiel five hundred feet below. He wants a "silent-break" window put in, as well as a false wall concealing a ladder to the roof. So if anyone attacks him in his office, Gris can fake out a suicidal window escape while climbing to the roof. And yes, he explains his secret escape plan to the builder. And he doesn't even add "kill contractor who knows my secret escape plan" to his to-do list. Weird.

Anyway, all of this was simply an attempt to get Gris some milk money through a kickback from the contractor. But alas, the builder has heard of the Apparatus' reputation, and won't grease any palms until after his company's finance office gets the funds. So... there's probably no point to this chapter at all, really. Gris certainly doesn't get what he wants, the plot's still sitting in the hangar with Tug One, and I doubt Bawtch is an important character. Maybe the secret passage is a Chekhov's Gun that we're expected to remember when it goes off in book 7 or 8 or whatever. Though I guess it's possible that it pops up again in this book, because lord knows most of the stuff between now and the ending are a big bland blur.

In other words, RIVETING, SUPERBLY PLOTTED INTRIGUE. Tune in next time and thrill as Soltan Gris experiences starvation-induced hallucinations!

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, September 9, 2011

Part Six, Chapter Two - Plight of the Homeless

Gris' driver has a name: Ske. It came up I don't know how many chapters ago, but ever since he's almost always been referred to as "my driver" by Gris. Maybe this is intended to show off Gris' callous and uncaring attitude towards his underlings. Or maybe Hubbard got more than halfway into the story before realizing he hadn't thought up a name for the character, quickly threw together a three-letter nonsense name, shoved it in a chapter near the book's start, and left the rest unchanged.

Well, Gris stalks over to his driver for another attempted shakedown. Ske is sleeping the sleep of the well-fed and partied-out, but upon being jostled awake reveals that he's used all the money Heller gave him to get Tug One cleaned, and the "tup" party set up, and the dresses for the Countess - Heller had this lowly Apparatus scumbag choose the outfits for his girlfriend? Interesting that he did that instead of picking them out personally. But Ske apparently had enough taste to satisfy both Heller and Krak, hinting at hidden depths.

Oh, we also learn Ske was a former commercial pilot who murdered a flight attendant before fleeing to become a smuggler. So is Heller a messiah figure now, able to reform and uplift killers and criminals like Ske?

Anyway, Gris slugs his driver for failing to have any money for him, and demands that they fly to his "town motel" in Government City. Which confuses me - doesn't he have a room at Spiteos? He and Heller were bunking together until the Countess moved in, right? I guess he's too tired to go that far.

But Gris' room is not only locked but barred, and soon a shrieking harridan named Meeley, the owner of the place, starts screaming for rent when she finds Gris. When no money is forthcoming she smacks him and throws all his stuff out of his room, vowing to tell every other landlord what a lousy tenant he is.

So now Gris is homeless (ignoring Spiteos). Ske suggests Gris shack up in his office, which while uncomfortable is the only place he has left (ignoring Spiteos). The chapter ends with Gris - say it with me now - feeling miserable, harboring fantasies of violent revenge against Heller, and subsequently feeling suddenly sick.

Tune in next week for another exciting installment from Mission Earth, in which Soltan Gris does paperwork and plans to renovate his office!

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Part Six, Chapter One - Sweet Transvestite

Well, that's enough of Heller having wonderful things showered upon him. But let's remember the other key element of this narrative - terrible things happening to Soltan Gris.

After storming out of Tug One into the near-empty hangar, Gris realizes that thanks to that ill-fated dice game he is now flat out broke. He spots Commander Snelz loafing nearby, humming the old Fleet favorite "The Girls All Have Four (Boomps) in Old Kiboo" to himself, so Gris goes over for a good old-fashioned shakedown. But Snelz - who Gris notices is "not unhandsome in a sort of Devils-take-you mold" but he isn't gay so shut up - has found a defiant streak, and isn't impressed by Gris' attempts at unleashing "the lightning bolts of authority." Gris demands his share of whatever bribes got the Countess smuggled aboard Heller's overbuilt spaceship, and that launches a long and tiresome story. About a transvestite.

See, there was this guy-who-liked-to-dress-as-a-girl named Tweek - and now I can't help but see the South Park character dragged into this - who said no to the wrong senior officer and was sentenced to death. But Snelz noticed that he had a similar build to the Countess Krak, though of course he couldn't match her transcendent beauty. Anyway, executions in Camp Kill are done at night so no overhead aircraft spot them (night vision? what's that? infrawhat?), and are carried out by shooting the accused so they fall into a chasm. Yes, really. They don't just walk around popping guys with a handgun while they're in their cells, the Apparatus goes through the trouble of getting a proper Railing Kill.

Well, good old pretty-boy Tweek was equipped with a bungee line and was able to jump in early before the grunts opened up with the "stutterguns," and in exchange for his life agreed to act as a body double for the Countess. So our lucky little transvestite is sleeping in Krak's bed while she and Heller... my mind just tried to imagine what an explicit sex scene would look like done by Hubbard. I already have a head cold. I don't need this on top of it. Damn my imagination. Damn it to hell.

Gris deduces that getting the guards from Spiteos to the hangars would require a pass, but Snelz smugly informs him that Gris used his identoplate to give Snelz' platoon a permanent pass. This morning, before he woke up. Don't worry, the pickpocket was nice enough to return the stolen ID afterward. Grasping at straws, Gris says he knows that Heller is paying Snelz for all this, but the guard suggests that not everything has to be done for money; no, he did all this for the lulz.

So Gris turns tail and storms out, broke and hungry. Rather than, you know, shooting Snelz in the head and taking whatever's on him. Which, detestation of Gris aside, I might be okay with. The more Hubbard slathers the guy with hate, the more I want to side with him out of sheer orneriness. At least until he does something truly despicable to waste all that goodwill.

Still no explanation as to why the hell this elaborate deception was necessary to get the Countess out of Spiteos in the first place. Does she not have her own identoplate? She can't just say she's following Heller over to do more on-the-spot training? Why is she on a tighter leash than Jettero "No Operational Security" Heller? Why is this book halfway over and we're still not on Earth yet?

But hey, it's not all bad. We're now entering the "Soltan Gris is Broke and Hungry" arc. RIVETING, SUPERBLY PLOTTED INTRIGUE.

Back to Part Five, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Part Five, Chapter Eight - Gaze in Awe Upon Jettero Heller's Wonderful Spaceship

The Countess Krak's main purpose in this chapter, besides reinforcing Jettero Heller's heterosexuality, is going "Oooooooo!" at various wonders. She manages about one per page, so seven or eight total. Just in case anyone was wondering if Hubbard has improved at writing female characters since Chrissie.

Anyway, Krak and Heller are happy to see each other - Gris watches as they "hugged and rehugged" before making with the kissyface, and neither Heller or the Countess has any reaction to Gris' presence, so it looks like they're about to go at it right then and there.  For his part, Gris is just standing there with no reaction.  But Heller manages to pull himself away and clamps down on his excitement so he can show off his wonderful spaceship, and leads the Countess on a tour of Tug One.

From the control deck Heller takes her - and Gris - to the "eating salon," just big enough to handle eight people, which is still more than the five-crew vessel strictly needs. There's a captain's cabin, tiny but serviceable, as well as a small library, a "food-making area" stocked with the "essential machines," a laundry room, and three crewman's cabins each with a "three hundred and sixty degree swivel gravity bed," to say nothing of various storage closets and lockers.

So, uh... why is a tugboat outfitted with all this? In most cases they're used to maneuver larger vessels into harbors, yes? Yeah, there's oceangoing variants, but they're icebreakers or designed to pull barges. So why is this short-ranged little spaceship wasting space for a library and kitchen? Can the crew not be bothered to go back to the spacedock for supper or reading materials?

It gets better - all this was just the officer and crew area, which the Countess was mostly bored by but feigning interest for Heller's sake. Then the book's hero covers her eyes before opening another corridor to reveal a positively pimped-out section of spaceship. Solid silver covers most surfaces, except the floors, which are done with "Astobol tile, the famous imperishable woven rock like in the Emperor's palace," making them nigh-indestructible and soundproof, which helps with the engine noise.

Tile floors, made of rare stone. On a spaceship. This here's a luxury tugboat, biatches. The admiral who refitted this glorified dingy spent two million spacebux on it, and Hubbard's gonna show us every last cent.

This eye-searingly ostentatious section of the ship, secreted away from the vulgar quarters of common people, has its own "food makers" and "uniform makers" and "reprocessors," so there's no reason to mingle with the lower class. Everything's voice activated, from doors to lights to mood music, as seen when Heller shows off the spacious and luxurious dining room complete with couches and bookshelves and solid gold crockery and cutlery, and mirrors on the walls to create the illusion that the room goes on forever, and an automated light and music show, and everything is, above all else, "done in fantastic taste."

There's more. A huge bedroom with a large "gravity bed" and wood paneled walls carved with scenes of nymphs, which is almost enough to convince Heller and Krak to stop for some hot monkey lovin', but they press on. There's a gymnasium. A gym. On a tugboat. The ceiling is a little low, but it still has exercise machines that pop out of the walls, and a massage machine, and a dueling robot with a variety of murderous implements and holograms to complete the illusion that someone is trying to kill you. There's a bathroom that has simulated fish swimming across the walls and ceiling to give you something to look at while suffering the results of weeks of travel food.

Heller also mentions some "gravity simulation coils" under the gym's floors, which would cancel out any "gravity surges" from the tug's engines and prevent "space float." Which raises questions about artificial gravity, and why you'd need 360-degree space beds if you had it. I guess we'll have to see what happens when the damned thing finally takes off.

The last room shown off, up at the top of the tug's stern, is huge (again) and done in black woods and black leather furniture. It looks empty until Heller calls out "autumn forest," and suddenly it looks like they're in a forest during fall, complete with a gentle breeze and the scent of fields. So a holodeck. Heller takes the Countess (and Gris) through other seasons, and Krak tears up because he picked scenes from their homeworld of Manco, which she hasn't seen in years. Then he freaks Gris out by setting the totally-original-yet-identical-to-a-holodeck to a view of space.

"The vast, brutal violence of elemental force, the unimaginable distances, the cruel, lonely black of it," is just too much for Gris, and he quickly commands the computer to go back to the autumn glen. But nothing happens. All the voice-activated parts of the ship are set for Heller and Heller only, though there's room in the databanks for one or two more voices. Heller offers one to Krak, but when Gris demands his own voice key he just gets stared at.

And the chapter still isn't done. The better-than-a-holodeck doesn't just do nature scenes, but musical performances and games and such. This leads to a page or so of a musical number called "Lepertige Lady," and believe me when I say you aren't missing anything as I skip over it. The tour ends in quarters befitting a lady, with a wardrobe filled in silver or golden gowns, full of new clothes for the Countess. She races off to shower and change, while Gris is, of course, misera- hang on, actually he's angry here.

Gris accuses Heller of fooling around all day, to which the combat engineer replies "Well, Soltan, you did say that Spiteos was too uncomfortable." And the studio audience laughs and applauds as Gris slinks away, again foiled by the dashing hero of the story.

So, there you have it: Tug One, the most ridiculously overbuilt, luxurious tugboat ever engineered. A utilitarian vessel designed to help larger ships dock that warrants crew quarters and libraries and a gymnasium. Like putting a hot tub and hibachi grill in an X-Wing.

At any rate, it's nice to know that the book's characters won't be inconvenienced or anything by their trip to Earth. Sometimes astronauts have to deal with hours of boredom in cramped, uncomfortable vessels as they make their journeys into the unknown, but why have that when you could let your protagonists ride in the lap of luxury? The hell was NASA thinking when they left the marble floor and gold filigree off the space shuttle?

I'm sure all these sumptuous chambers will prove vital to Mission Earth's plot and be referenced numerous times in books to come.

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Part Five, Chapter Seven - And Now We Make Party

Well, the slovenly, apathetic louts who work for the Apparatus are nevertheless able to do a decent job on Tug One, so as promised Heller lets them have their "tup party." For the next two hours the hangar is a scene of merriment complete with sweetbuns and funny hats and streamers and this mysterious brew called "tup." Everyone sings praises to the glorious Jettero Heller and his magnificent spaceship, except for Gris, who is miserable, because that is his chief function in this story.

Then with a "hup, yo, hup, hup, yo!" in marches Commander Snelz and his squad of guardsmen in full riot gear, to relieve the hangar security detail. There's a lot of Sargespeak - "Scuh-wahd, halt!" and that sort of thing - and though Gris again boggles at how the magic of Jettero Heller is able to make working soldiers out of Apparatus dregs, he's nevertheless glad to see them. At least until he notices one extra member of Snelz' troupe. This "Gy-yardsman Ip" is apparently posted inside Tug One, and eagerly hurries aboard.

And then... Snelz and his soldiers go crazy with exuberant glee, tossing their rifles into the air, cheering, hive-fiving each other, doing a merry little dance and everything. So, can you guess what's happened yet?

Gris hurries aboard to follow "Ip," and sure enough finds none other than the Countess Krak taking off the helmet that helped disguise her as a soldier. I've no idea why this deception is necessary, or why the second-most feared person in the entire Apparatus can't go where she damn well pleases. Maybe she's supposed to be a damsel locked away in Spiteos despite being fully capable of killing her way out of there with her electrowhip and crazy kung-fu skills. Maybe the Apparatus is simply incapable of having someone fly from point A to point B without spying it up somehow. They probably use body doubles and feints to get groceries, then disappear the entire checkout staff.

Since this chapter was so short and stupid I wanted to do a twofer with Chapter Eight, but it looks like Hubbard is going to spend twelves pages on his tour of Tug One, so it'll have to wait.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, September 5, 2011

Part Five, Chapter Six - More Spaceship Maintenance

We're still not done with Tug One.

Gris watches Heller do another "money handshake" with the hangar security chief to get a guard detail around the mission ship, while maintenance crews swarm over the ugly little spaceship, connecting hoses and scrubbing off years of dust. Then a big ol' "lorry" - Hubbard has come down with a mild case of Britishness - drives in, with signs on its sides advertising "tup," some sort of brewed beverage.

Yep, a commercial vehicle has just casually cruised into the Apparatus' secure hangers, filled with their private fleet of ill-gotten starships. Its crew unloads a bunch of picnic stuff before just as suddenly departing, and Heller gets the hangar workers' attention, promising a "tup party" if Tug One could pass a Fleet inspection by that afternoon. And everyone cheers, and the murderous curmudgeons the Apparatus fills its ranks with are all smiles and aglow about the wonderful Jettero Heller, and the workers all ooh and aaah at being in the same room with the famous race pilot and plan on bragging about it to their wife and kids, and I guess it's still better than Battlefield Earth because nobody's adding Heller to their pantheons yet. But there's nine books to go, so we'll have to see.

There's another description of Tug One, now in a horizontal position, with an emphasis on the unsightly, heavy "arms" protruding from either side of its fuselage. Gris, who apparently has no clue what a tug actually does, asks a nearby worker about it, who explains for the benefit of the audience that tugs are used to push and butt larger ships into position... but I'm kind of wondering why. 'cause Tug One can move around in all directions despite its engine placement, yeah? And space isn't known for its friction or gravity or anything. So why couldn't you stick the same engines that make Tug One so maneuverable on a larger ship? And if Tug One has tractor beams, which it does, are the prongs even needed? And why does Tug One need to be a tug, anyway? Why couldn't Heller have fallen in love with an experimental, high-speed recon vessel with similar engines? Did Hubbard just like tugboats? Did I ask these rhetorical questions earlier? My head's all stuffy from the weather, and these chapters all blend together into a smear of tedium, until I'm not sure what day it is or who I am or-

Anyway. Gris reiterates how ugly the ship looks, then finds Heller in the "communications cubicle" making outside calls to civilian contractors. Gris is enraged - "With his in security [sic], he could blow us apart!" But Heller is rather unconcerned about the risk, and assures Gris that these groups are used to sensitive government work. And then we're treated to half a page of Heller's side of conversations with restorers and gravity coil specialists and whatnot who he's all on a first-name basis with. Gris moans that the work planned could take weeks, or even months - so no, we won't be seeing Earth for a good while yet.

But Heller's got sound logic behind his choice of mission ship. If he and Gris were to leave right away on an old Apparatus freighter, they'd still get to Earth slower than they would if they refitted Tug One and then timehaxed their way across the gulf between galaxies. Assuming those baffling "willbe-was" engines don't blow them all to hell, of course. The chapter ends with Gris miserable - man, they always end with Gris being miserable, don't they? How many times have I typed those words? - and ranting about that (bleeped) tug.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, September 2, 2011

Part Five, Chapter Five - A Spaceship Changes Location

The chapter title pretty much sums it up, really.

Still a bit dazed from the purchase of Tug One, to say nothing of Heller's sudden appreciation of the value of blackmail, Gris finds himself "hazed" aboard the vessel "the way they do animals that have gotten out of pasture." The word you're looking for is herded, Hubbard.

Heller gets Gris up in the navigator's seat and straps him in tight, warning that the tug's extreme and sudden speeds could be dangerous (Heller himself is, of course, relaxing on the edge of his seat without any restraints). He talks about the tug being able to move in any direction, though from the description we've been given all the engines would seem to be on the vessel's rear. But eh, hate to nitpick over thruster placement when the vehicle's primary engines somehow manipulate time.

Gris gets to endure a quick and unpleasant trip from the Fleet base to an Apparatus hanger, choking on Tug One's dusty interior and sick to his stomach after thoughts of revenge against Heller set off his indigestion. Heller gets his ship set up in a horizontal landing position and orders the blustering hangar chief to get a cleaning team to service his new baby, palming the Apparatus scumbag a bit of cash to ease the transaction.

And then old Atty, Heller's Fleet buddy who tagged along for the trip, corners Gris and confesses that young Heller is a bit of a speed demon, and worries that Tug One will be the death of him. So the officer decides it's Gris' responsibility to ensure Heller's safety, and of course he threatens the Apparatus agent with the wrath of the entire Fleet if Heller comes to harm.

The chapter ends with a habitually miserable Gris being sick again. That's it for this exciting installment from Mission Earth! I find myself looking forward to the parts of the book where Gris is going around murdering people, because at least something is bloody happening.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Part Five, Chapter Four - Threats and Loopholes

Oh, wait. My bad. We don't quite have a ship yet.

Soltan Gris is understandably reluctant to sign for a mission vessel with notoriously - even legendarily - wonky engines, and takes a deep breath to voice his one-word objection. But Heller cuts him off, commenting that "you know and I know that we must not put secrets of the Apparatus before unauthorized personnel."

I didn't mention it last chapter, but Heller has shown unusual discretion in what he's told his Fleet buddies during all this. When asked why he's in the company of Apparatus "drunks," Heller states how he's "in disguise" rather than a kidnapping victim, and when their guide inquired what they needed a ship for, Heller simply called their mission "a peculiar one." Why, it's almost as if he's not quite as espionage-stupid as Gris and the others think he is, as though his affably honest persona was a clever ruse!

So here he is now, all but blackmailing Gris in order to get his ship. Gris is understandably shocked and terrified that Heller could reveal the bafflingly-still-secret existence of Spiteos. So he holds his tongue, inwardly vowing revenge.

Then there's a moment of hope when Commander Crup, the old officer running the Fleet Reserve, flat-out refuses to sign over such a dangerous ship, citing how the engines will build up too much energy and blow up. But Heller smugly posits that he may have figured out a way to avoid a critical build-up, and promises to do extensive remodeling - which Gris mentally groans could take months. And now we can actually emphasize with Soltan Gris, at least over his desire to get on with the bloody mission already instead of wasting even more time on Voltar.

So Crup is almost ready to hand over the keys to Tug One, but remembers that his Fleet superiors would kill them if he just signed over a ship to the "drunks." But then he comes up with a way around this by citing the Fleet's practice of selling disarmed surplus ships to civilian companies - which will somehow apply to Voltar's intelligence division - and even digs up a discount due to the whole "engines may explode" thing.

A fully miserable Gris puts his "identoplate" seal against the papers for Tug One's change in ownership, and Heller and a buddy run off to start doing engineer stuff. And so ends the four-and-a-bit pages that do nothing but draw this story out even longer.

Now I know why that other guy summarized the Mission Earth series book by book, rather than chapter by chapter. 'cause what can you say about stuff like this? "Veiled threats were made, excuses were found, papers were signed?" Riveting stuff.

Back to Chapter Three