Monday, November 21, 2011

Intermission - The Story Thus Far And Why It Doesn't Make Me Want To Read Any Further

Well, The Invaders Plan is finished, but Mission Earth is only just begun.  And rather than dive right on into Black Genesis (I'm still deciding whether or not that should be a blind run or if I need to skim through it real quick), now's as good a time as any for some reflection, reminiscing, and complaining.

I'm not sure where to start, though.  The book had a lot of problems.  There's Hubbard's clunky sentence structure, dubious grasp of science, strange obsession with his main character's wardrobe, one-dimensional characters... but if Battlefield Earth was any indication, those are not so much problems with Mission Earth as they are Hubbard's writing in general.

I guess the main... well, a primary issue with The Invaders Plan is that it isn't a stand-alone story.  "Dekalogy" notwithstanding, Mission Earth was penned as a single corpulent manuscript over a million words long, which was then chopped up by its unfortunate editors into individual books.  It isn't a true series, it was a book so bloated that there was no way it could be printed in its entirety without falling apart the minute you cracked its spine.

Take Harry Potter or Harry Dresden, pick a random book from the series.  If you handed Chamber of Secrets or Dead Beat to someone unfamiliar with Rowling or Butcher, they'd probably stumble along for a bit, since they missed out on the backstory providing context for the current adventure.  But eventually they'd catch on, especially since the authors are nice enough to give little reminders of who characters are and what happened in previous volumes, and in the end the reader will probably be left with a positive literary experience and a sense of closure.  This is because the Harry Potter septette and the ongoing Dresden Files saga, though written with an overarching plot in mind, were also intended to be stand-alone stories.  The books each have their own story arc, climax, denouement, all that Literature 101 stuff.

Now, take Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, tear out chapters one through five, and call it a book.  That's The Invaders Plan.  It's the rising action of a larger story trying and failing to stand on its own.  It is structurally unsound, narratively unfulfilling.  There's hints of a larger plot (something's fishy at Hogwarts / we've gotta get to Earth), an obstacle of sorts (we've missed the train! / Heller won't get on the damn spaceship!), and a sad "resolution" (we'll fly the car to Hogwarts / we've finally taken off), but it doesn't work as a real story.

I mean, where's The Invaders Plan's climax?  Is it the launch party?  Gris stealing the bugging devices?  The riot at the Artists' Club?  Gris figuring out his brainwashing?  The attempt on Gris' life in the mountains?  Who's the villain?  Lombar Hisst is pretty evil, but he's not really opposing Gris so much as being a psychotic boss.  Heller is the (hero) antagonist, but he's not opposing Gris either, just being a goody two-shoes while Gris struggles to get him to do what he wants.  The Countess?  The nameless assassins Gris pays shockingly little attention to?

And that's just the structural problems with the plot.  The story itself is just bad, an endless series of delays and distractions until Mission Earth can haul its lazy ass into orbit.  Heller needs to pick out a ship because he won't use the one supplied by the Apparatus.  The ship needs refitting, which will take weeks.  Heller is getting close to the Countess, what can Gris do to drive them apart?  Why is Gris puking at the thought of Heller in danger?  Gris is broke and hungry.  Gris is in the mountains.  The Artists' Club incident.  Gris needs a doctor, operating room, and surveillance equipment.  And so on.  The introduction promises aliens invading Earth, and we get six hundred pages of a guy packing for a trip.

And all of this happens for two reasons: firstly, that Jettero Heller doesn't follow orders.  The Apparatus just can't tell him to get on the prepared mission ship and leave already.  For a military man, Heller seems to do his own thing regardless of what anyone else wants.  You'd think at some point the Apparatus would appeal to the Fleet to get Heller to cooperate, but mostly they're helpless in the face of his rugged individuality.

Secondly, Soltan Gris has to do everything himself.  There's nobody else able to rustle up vital supplies.  He can't delegate his blackmailing and schemes to get the specialists he needs to anybody else.  The Apparatus does not have a secure operating room, or a competent doctor, or the surgical bugs Gris needs to keep an eye on Heller, which is utterly inexplicable for an organization of morally-bankrupt spies trying to take over the galaxy.  Mission Earth threatens the Apparatus' survival and they leave its success entirely up to a guy who can't balance his checking account.

It's mind-boggling idiocy that serves no purpose other than to delay the plot proper.  Months and months ago, near the start of this blog, I wondered about this book's title: The Invaders Plan.  I complained that it needed an apostrophe somewhere, to make it The Invader's Plan or The Invaders' Plan.  But now I know that the title is perfectly accurate.  In the book, the invaders plan.  They scheme.  They plot.  They prepare.  And other than that they don't do much of anything.  They certainly don't accomplish much besides the much-delayed launch of a spaceship.  It's nothing but set-up to a payoff that we'll have to buy another book to enjoy.

So I guess it's the exact opposite of Battlefield Earth.  With that I complained that Hubbard had packaged a series into a single volume because he wasn't sure anyone who bought the first episode would pay for the next.  But even if you'd chopped Battlefield Earth into two or three books, it would've turned out much better than Mission Earth, because there were multiple story arcs, climaxes, and resolutions in it.  You could've ended Battlefield Earth after the human uprising and had a perfectly functional, if flawed, sci-fi story.  Sure, the sequels would have been underwhelming at best, but each entry in Battlefield Earth the Series could stand on its own.

Mission Earth: The Invaders Plan takes six hundred pages and it doesn't even get the main characters to the planet in its title.  It's a drawn-out prologue that doesn't give the reader much incentive to learn what happens next.  We're supposed to be all pumped and excited now that Gris and Heller are finally on their way, eager to see what adventures await them next.  I don't know about you, but I mostly feel tired.  If someone had picked up the book eager to see an alien invasion of Earth, I bet they'd be feeling pretty cheated at the end of The Invaders Plan, and not too eager to spend any more money on the series.

Really, if it took this much trouble and this many pages to get the main characters off the starting planet, what can we look forward to on Earth?  A section trapped in traffic?  Gris trying to get a bank loan?  Heller refusing to leave a hotel because it has a nice pool and free cable?  And all this is assuming they even reach Earth before the end of Black Genesis.  For all I know the next book could be nothing but meteor showers and engine failures and cooking disasters in the Prince Caucalsia's mess hall.  If this book was any indication, Black Genesis will end with them finally arriving in orbit over Earth, with an order to buy the next installment in the series to see how long it will take for them to land.

I really hope I'm wrong about this.

Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Nine

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Nine - It Took 615 Pages, But They Finally Launched That Stupid Spaceship

You know, it's strange - this whole launch ceremony is supposed to be "nerve-shredding," but Gris is spending it higher than a kite, delightfully mellow and compliant.  He should've remembered it as a pleasant blur, not a nightmare.  You lied to us, Hubbard.

By ten o' clock "thousands and thousands" of people have swarmed in through the wide-open gates to the Apparatus hangar, with snapping banners and marching bands and tup by the tankard.  But the ceremony formally begins with a barrage of "daylight fireworks" which creates the image of a planet, before it bursts into a fireball.

I'm not sure that's the sort of imagery you want for your mission to save a world from self-destruction.  Maybe their stock was limited and the planet-go-boom fireworks were all they had.

Gris notices a crane lifting a platform covered with Homeview cameramen to get good shots of the festivities, along with nearly a dozen newsvans' worth of reporters crowding in to get pictures of Jettero Heller.  The agent watches Heller shake hands and pose for the cameras without any sense of concern.  Everything's under control, everything is wonderful.

Then an Officer Bis from Fleet Intelligence, who I don't remember appearing in a previous chapter but refuse to check, enters the scene and leads a trio of reporters over to Gris.  There's no dialogue, but Gris describes how Bis helps him pose for some pictures of his own, scenes of Gris scowling at Heller from behind, or clenching his gloved fists with fury, or chewing on a jam-smeared bit of cake sculpted like a nymph's hand.  Gris is happy to go along and look dangerous and powerful for them.  Then he admires the hundred dancing girls drifting along the tup bars.

A limo pulls up to disgorge the King's Own Astrographer, Captain Tars Roake, who refuses to reveal where Mission Ea... ah, The Mission is headed.  Even though reporters speculate that due to Tug One's distinctive and explosive engines it must be leaving the galaxy, possibly to go back to the "old home galaxy" to recover "some ancestral monument from the ruins of our racial planet?"  Presumably the reporters are referring to the Voltarian race as a whole, and not just the Mancos... so is hundred and something thousand years long enough for an extragalactic race to develop into distinct planet-based subraces?  Or were the Mancos discovered by the Voltarians and incorporated into the Confederacy?

Anyway, Gris notices everyone craning their necks to look skyward, and looks up to see, three miles overhead... wow, he has good eyesight, and a natural rangefinder.  Well there's a good two hundred and fifty starfighters doing formation flying overhead.  They end by discharging their weapons, "Mile-long, eighth-mile wide" trails of flame that spell out "GOOD LUCK, JET!"  Which is a pretty neat trick, getting those lines of weapons fire to spell that instead of making a big plaid mess, or hitting each other in the crossfire.  After the shockwave fades, the pilots all land to join the celebrations.

And then the crowd goes bonkers when Hightee Heller shows up dressed like an angel.  A special effects crew duplicates her image into a hundred and fifty foot hologram, which steps towards Tug One to christen it.  "Little ship, I give thee life!"  And a smooch.  "THY NAME IS NOW PRINCE CAUCALSIA!"

And it is this that finally penetrates the methamphetamine haze surrounding what passes for Gris' brain, as a part of him realizes that anyone watching the broadcast of the christening can now do a search for that name, which will lead them to Folk Legend 894M, which will lead them to Blito-P3, aka Earth.  After making this observation, Gris... has no further reaction.  No sudden burst of cold sobriety, no giddy, manic laughter.  He doesn't even shift in his seat, assuming he's sitting down.  He watches the fireworks and takes a carrot when Bugs Bunny appears to comfort him that "They'll never use those pictures, doc.  No violence."

So did Hubbard have to shell out money to Warner Bros. to use Bugs?  Or is it okay because this is a "satire?"  Did Warner Bros. even notice, or were they browbeaten into compliance?  Did they think this was good publicity instead of dragging a beloved icon into a wretched story? 

I am now more interested in the ramifications of a character's cameo than the story that he appears in.

Snelz' company does some marching and shooting "flitter" into the air over the crowd.  And then someone yells "Yeah, yeah!  So you Fleet guys think the Apparatus troops can't drill!"  And then It Is On, and the two branches start brawling and food goes flying and the cameras get nice footage of a pleasant ceremony turning into a riot.  Heller commands that the choruses start up with "Spaceward, Ho!" as he clambers aboard what is now Prince Caucalsia, a name that I'm already tired of typing.

Let's enjoy more of L. Ron Hubbard's songwriting, shall we? ...Look, I had to read it.  It's only fair.

Spaceward, ho!
To the stars we go!

Upward, upward, upward!
High, high, high!
Roll the blast! Roll the blast!
Close all locks! Grab sky!

Spaceward, ho!
The planet flees below!

Thunder, thunder, thunder!
Flame, flame, flame!
Feed the fuel! Feed the fuel!
Correct the course and aim!

Spaceward, ho!
Some other land to know!
Target, target, target!
Drive, drive, drive!
Bore the black! Bore the black!
Fasten belts! G Five!

Space is a mistress!
Space is a whore!
Space is a spell
No spacer can ignore.
So burn, burn, burn!
And shove, shove, shove!
We're into space another time,
Lured from home and love
Into hope and terror,
Into stars above.
Here we go!
Here we go!
Spaceward, HO!

Yes, that's the spacing and punctuation, with no discernible pattern or melody or rhythm or anything.  Just a bunch of words repeated in triplicate.  I can't imagine how you'd sing it.  And this is how the author rewards us for enduring six hundred pages of his book.

So the riot police descend on the brawl, while Heller... this is just weird.  Heller hits some switches to trigger some special beams, because "Tugs have beams that, in space, which is silent, fasten to hulls of ships and conduct sound along them."  The question here is not how, because the answer is "magical sci-fi technology."  The question is why.  Do spaceships not have, you know, radios, communicators, a guy in a spacesuit standing on the hull waving semaphore flags?  Why would you develop this revolutionary Sound Beam technology for tugboats?  

For trolling, evidently.  Heller hits all the other ships in the hangar with these Sound Beams, setting off a clamor of sirens and alarms as The Deathtrap Formerly Known as Tug One takes off.  I guess he likes loud noises and wants plenty to accompany his grand departure.  Gris' shaking hands have trouble closing the airlock (he's finally coming down from his high), but Heller helps him get in and close the door.  Meanwhile two hundred feet below one "guardsman" is blowing kisses to the departing spaceship before standing dejectedly (good eyes, Gris, spotting the Countess in a huge crowd from that high, through the air lock and the engine backwash).  And they're off.

We were on our totally advertised, totally certain to be shown on every planet, secret way.

We were headed for Earth.

But Gods only knew what would happen now!

Which gods, Hubbard?  Clarence the God of Chutney?  Shan-Dao the Spinning Turtle?  mwaDngane the God of Fleecing Tourists?  Tizi-Nochi the Spider-Lizard?  It's been over six hundred pages and you never made an effort to explain the theology you've made half-assed references to throughout this stupid book!

One thing's for sure, though - whoever Gris is talking about, they're probably woods gods.

Will Earth discover
it is the target
of an alien invasion 
in time to fight back?

Volume 2
Fortress of Evil

You know, some books are nice enough to give the reader a choice in the matter, Hubbard.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Eight - In Which Drugs are the Answer

Guess it's time for the "nerve-shredding departure" Gris promised us last chapter.

Just as Gris relaxes on his bed (again), a loud noise jerks him upright (again).  He races out the airlock to find the hangar in an uproar - crews are setting up massive platforms, portable stages, tup bars, the whole shebang.  Truck after... excuse me, lorry after lorry pours in through the wide-open gates that normally keep the Apparatus hangars safely hidden from the world, or at least those parts of the world unprepared to scale a fence.

Gris rushes over to Heller and wails that "You can't have a go-away party!  That was just a joke!  THIS IS A SECRET MISSION!"  A confused Heller reminds Gris that he was the one who signed all the forms ordering this extravaganza (during the heeelarious "Where was Lombar?!" bit several chapters ago).  It's vital, he explains, that his ship have a proper naming ceremony, since it's terribly unlucky to fly around unchristened.  But he tries to placate Gris by promising that the event will only take four hours or so, and he'll try to keep it a "family affair."

A sleep-deprived and panicking Gris climbs back to his bunk, but sits down on a bottle that wasn't there before.  It's a sample of amphetamines from Earth like the one Lombar Hisst was showing off a few hours ago.  Gris doesn't know how it got there, but he decides that the only way he's going to get through the next four hours is with the help of a hit of speed.

...Nah, too easy.

Gris slices off a chunk of a heart-shaped pill and lets it dissolve under his tongue.  Immediately his pulse speeds up, his weariness is replaced with elation, and everything is just wonderful!  He spends a full hour donning his Death Battalion uniform, due to unfamiliarity of how to fasten things and his new tendency to dance in front of the mirror.  Most of it is several sizes too big, except for one too-small shoe, but it's all good.  The spiked knuckles, the silvered dagger bearing the motto "Death to Everybody," the faux-intestine belts, the nooses - magnificent!  Fits great, looks sharp!

He goes outside and spies the throng assembling to wish Jettero Heller luck on his super-secret mission - contractors who worked on the ship, their families, Fleet personnel, off-duty Apparatus guys, bands and choruses...  and, arriving just hours from takeoff, Tug One's Apparatus-selected crew, a half-dozen former pirates.  These Antimancos have pointed heads and wide jaws, giving them triangular skulls, along with squinty eyes and swarthy skin.  Remember, folks, the less Caucasian a character looks, the more evil they are.

Hey, maybe that's why Gris hasn't been described yet.  Maybe he's some sort of misshapen, discolored half-troll, the better to reflect his internal evilness.  Maybe that's a shocking reveal Hubbard is saving for later.  Kinda like that H.P. Lovecraft short story where the horrifying twist ending was that a character's grandmother or something had been a, duh-dum-duhn, "Negress!"

Gris goes to give his new crew a warm greeting, but for some reason an apparition in a skull-shaped helmet extending a spiked hand makes them a bit spooked.  He shrugs off this mystery and then spots something that snaps him out of his pleasant buzz: Snelz marching in front of his platoon - no, a full company now! - with a shiny new captain's badge.  With drug-boosted logic, Gris concludes that Snelz was the spy who told Hisst about the Countess Krak bunking with Heller.  He starts babbling about Snelz's promotion, but Heller comes by and reveals that he gifted Snelz the cash to buy his next rank.

I'd rant about how stupid it is to have a market-driven officer corps rather than something approaching a meritocracy, but this is kinda clever.  Since the Apparatus runs on sleaze and extortion and is generally a chaotic, mismanaged nightmare, being able to steal or blackmail or embezzle the money to purchase ranks is as much a display of the organization's relevant skills as clearing out a bunker or capturing an enemy spaceship are for proper military branches.  Even Snelz toadying up to someone powerful and popular is a display of Apparatus values.  It's so quietly clever that I wonder if it was even intentional.

But Gris keeps babbling, his mouth working faster than his mind ever did, and a concerned Heller sits him down in a comfy chair.  The big ceremony is about to begin... next chapter.

Now I'm pretty much a teetotaler and was thoroughly scared straight by my elementary school's DARE program, so I have no idea if the symptoms Gris is displaying are characteristic of amphetamines.  But in contrast to the suspicion and outright scorn I have for his scientific credentials, I trust L. Ron Hubbard to accurately describe the effects of speed.

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Seven - Blood and Guts in the Coat Closet

It's four in the morning, his stuff is packed, and Gris is eager to get a bit of shut-eye before blastoff, but he has the misfortune to bump into Heller as he returns to the hangar with Tug One.

Something I've noticed - every time Jettero Heller appears in the story, Hubbard takes a quick paragraph to describe what immaculate, snappy outfit he's wearing today.  For example, this time he's in a blue jumpsuit, sharply-creased and clean, topped off by that little red racing cap.  Whereas I still don't know so much as the color of Gris' hair even though the book's almost finished.  Makes it pretty clear where the author's interest lies.

We get a good page or two of Heller dressing down Gris for various reasons - he's trying to lug dangerous weaponry aboard the ship, which could discharge and blow them all up.  He hasn't cleaned himself up, which could stress the ship's air scrubbers and fray the crews' tempers over body odor.  Gris doesn't have a dress uniform for the launch ceremony.  His luggage smells bad (Ske decided to sweep up all the dust and crap on the floor of Gris' room so he could take it with him).  Heller orders Gris to get himself sorted out and showered, and Gris is too sleep-deprived to protest much.

The Apparatus agent strips down on the hangar floor, earning a giggle from an unseen Countess Krak, then clambers aboard the spaceship.  He loads his sensitive goods, including all that surveillance gear, into a specially-shielded compartment, then sleepwalks his way through the crew's laundry room and takes a shower while Heller gives Ske some money to buy a nice uniform for Gris.  Gris is amazed at the amount of dirt that comes off him because the morally-bankrupt Apparatus doesn't believe in personal hygiene, even though Gris has noticed several times now how others can tell a disguised Apparatus agent by his appalling stench.  And if Gris can notice that, surely someone else can.  I mean, hunters have known for thousands of years that your scent can give you away when-

Anyway, when Gris comes out all squeaky-clean (for once), he finds his skivvies but not his uniform roll.  Turns out he was so sleepy he shoved all his clothes in the incinerator!  Which I guess laundry rooms on spaceships have as standard.  Luckily Ske has dropped off a dress uniform for him.  And what a uniform it is.

Lying on a dead-black cloth, the red embroidery was quite startling.

Bones, hangman's noose, electric whips.  Bones?  Hangman's noose?  Electric whips?

The helmet.  Black!  A huge phosphorescent skull!

It was the dress uniform of a colonel of the Death Battalions!

It even had the belts that symbolized bleeding intestines!

It was the number one terror uniform of the whole Voltarian forces!

No Hubbard, what you've described is a goofy-ass Halloween costume.  The really scary uniforms - KGB, SS, that kinda stuff - they look pretty much like the uniforms of normal army branches, they don't try to look like zombies or werewolves or anything.  It's the reputation of the organization that inspires the fear, not the fake blood you splatter on the clothes or the skulls on the cufflinks.  I mean yeah, the SS did use the death's head, but they were fairly restrained with it, and they weren't counting on people freaking out because of them.  It was part of the whole myth they were building around themselves, not purely an attempt to intimidate.

This uniform is terrible.  I mean, if you're wearing the noose around your neck, what's a guy going to go for in a fistfight?  Stupid.  And the intestines?  "Oooh, look how disemboweled I am, fear meeeeeee, oooh."  Stupid.

Gris quite reasonably decides to delay the donning of this outfit and tries to take a power nap, but no sooner does he lay down when the ship starts roaring and lurching.  Gris runs up to the bridge in a towel to find Heller piloting the tug into a new position, landing it on its engines so its nose is pointed skyward.  This causes all the furniture in the ship to swivel and compensate, which is neat, though you have to ask why the artificial gravity isn't on, or why the tug needs to stand on its tail for lift-off in the first place.  Maybe it's a style thing.  Maybe Hubbard's mind just couldn't imagine a spacecraft that took off like a commercial jet instead of a rocket.  Even though his mind described spacecraft that were commercial jets with rockets instead of turbines.

Gris returns to his room, but another attempt to sleep is interrupted when Bawtch of all people shows up to say his farewells and give Gris a stack of paperwork to stamp.  He comments how Gris' uniform matches the blackness of his soul, and shares that "I heard a rumor that these ships blow up, so have a nice voyage" before leaving.

And then... Gris tries to go to sleep, again.  After having a cup of hot jolt while stamping some of Bawtch's paperwork.  He decides that the worst is over, that when he wakes up he'll be safely underway on the voyage to Earth.  But the chapter ends with Gris narrating how he was about to experience "the most nerve-shredding departure in space history!"

Wow, guess we're in for a real tour de force next chapter, eh?  But it'll be hard to top this chapter, what with the laundry and luggage and showering and paperwork and everything.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, November 14, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Six - "You'll Get What's Coming to You"

We'll start this chapter with Soltan Gris being miserable, for a change.  After the startling revelation that his hyperviolent and paranoid boss might just be, wow, crazy, he spends a good half hour sitting at his desk in his office, staring at nothing, wondering what to do.  The answer, of course, is to look up his boss' symptoms in his psychology textbook.  Schizophrenia, psychosis, megalomania, aural hallucinations - yep, they're all there.

Aaaaand I'm confused, Hubbard.  Psychology's a scam, right?  Or at best redundant?  So why is it so precisely diagnosing Lombar Hisst's insanity?  Is the point you're trying to make that Psychology just gives us a vocabulary to describe mental illness?  Certainly most Voltarians should be able to tell there's something wrong with Hisst, but Gris is unique in that he has fancy words to do so with.  So if that's all Psychology offers, why is it so dangerous and contemptible? 

We get the book's Hitler reference when Gris adds up all these symptoms to find they equal "Hitler syndrome."  I'm not sure what the point of this is, other than to Godwin the book's villain.  This should also make things interesting later when the psychologists take over - come on, you know it's gonna happen - so Hubbard will get to effectively say "yeah, these psychologist quacks?  Worse than Hitler!"

With the threat of a painful death made clear, Gris resolves to do his job and see Mission Earth to a successful conclusion.  Or rather, ensure that it fails.  So he goes home and finishes packing for blastoff tomorrow, and has Ske help him, since the bandages on his hands from the "metal slivers" incident have come off.  But Ske's in a bad mood, and then the landlady Meely shows up, and it looks like Gris is in danger of going without some sleep!  But then he pulls out a counterfeit Space Benjamin Franklin to pay his landlady, so she leaves without harassing him too much.  "May you really enjoy your immediate future."

Ah, good old False Reassurance.  At least Gris is smart enough to use it sparingly, unlike Terl from that other Hubbard book.

Since he's in such a giving mood, Gris turns to his steadfast driver Ske, who has endured trials and beatings and attempted murder at his side, who helped nurse Gris back to health after the agent nearly died from thirst and starvation.  Gris recognizes that Ske has been hoping for a great windfall from all of these covert shenanigans, a windfall that has yet to come.  So Gris rewards the closest thing he has to a frien... well, ally at least, with, you guessed it, more counterfeit money.  Ske is just smart enough to be a little dubious, but not smart enough to refuse the phony money and punch Gris in the jaw.

The chapter ends with Gris saying farewell to his bumbling sidekick.  "Good-bye, Ske.  Whatever happens to you, I hope it is what you truly deserve."

Two for two, Gris, well done.  But I dunno, while Hubbard's a bad enough author to kill off a major character entirely off-screen, I've just got a gut feeling this isn't the last we'll see of Ske.  And no, this isn't the type of gut feeling that comes from reading ahead.  See, these books exist to make Gris miserable, and having Ske cheat death and return to annoy him just feels inevitable.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, November 11, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Five - The Master Plan Revealed

It's the big day - the day of Gris' ordered meeting with the terrifying Lombar Hisst, he of the dramatic mood swings and electro-whipamajig.  Gris tries to keep the possibility of his imminent death out of mind and does little errands until seven that evening, when he's picked up by a van and taken outside the city, where he spies the "black bulk" of a certain spaceship waiting for him.  It's a "Spacebattle Mobile Flying Cannon," a vessel more commonly called "the gun."

It holds two pilots, it has regular warp drives and it carries the largest caliber blastcannon made.  It has no frills, no comforts: it was just that, a gun.  And that gun can wrap a whole planet into a ball of flame.

Yeah... it's also small enough to fit in Spiteos' hangars, so it can't be all that big.  So it must have one helluva warhead.  But its armament is apparently still larger than the blastcannons used on actual Voltarian capital ships, which is a little confusing, not to mention stupid.  As is the decision to put your ultimate weapon on a defenseless, two-person vehicle as opposed to a proper battleship.  And if it's the warhead that's dangerous, couldn't you just stick it on an interplanetary missile and cut out the middleman?  Wait, this is a blastgun, there probably isn't a warhead.  So a) why does the barrel's caliber matter for an energy weapon and b) how the hell can this two-person ship produce more energy than the main batteries of a capital ship?  If you could power a doomsday weapon for this little dingy that's capable of fragging planets, why not put the same generators on a battleship for even more heinous firepower?

It's the little things that make this book worth hurling across the room.

Well, this is Lombar's (nameless) personal ship, and he's added so much armor to it that it's utterly invincible, if slower and shorter-ranged than normal.  And he uses this awesome weapon to fly around at night and mess with traffic controllers by giving weird responses.  And nobody has spotted him and asked why the Apparatus has a doomsday weapon on its hands and why its director is making prank calls with it. 

Gris boards and takes the copilot's position, with Hisst invisible in the darkness of the cockpit.  Lombar offers to show Gris something, and begins chatting amiably as they get into position.  He explains how he found the leak that revealed Heller's incarceration to the press - he had someone follow a Knife Section agent, who was seen bumping into a reporter on the street, and even though they didn't exchange anything it was good enough for Hisst.  He had the reporter kidnapped, and he denied everything until his wife was held hostage.  When the journalist finally broke down and "confessed," Hisst had him, his wife, and the Apparatus agent he bumped into all executed.  So there's that lingering lose end "settled," assuming you didn't imitate Gris and forget all about it.

They go on a little further, and Hisst recites some elementary black ops stuff about a successful revolution requiring a supply base beyond the existing regime's reach.  Gris, he says, is now in charge of the Apparatus' base - Earth.

Gris finally recognizes that they're hovering over Palace City, visible only in its absence - you remember that place, right?  With the black holes that move it forward in time so you can't attack it somehow?  The place where physics slits its wrists and sinks back into a hot bathtub?  And here, or rather above it, is where Hisst explains himself: the Lords in the Palace, and indeed the people on every planet in the Voltarian Confederacy, are all plotting against Hisst, waiting to kill him.  So his only recourse is to take over the government and slaughter everyone; he's the only one smart enough and strong enough to do this, so it's practically his duty.

Don't worry, we're meant to think Hisst is insane.  Even Gris can realize it... eventually.

The key to his coup, Hisst explains, is Earth.  Or more accurately the drugs produced on Earth.  Heroin, methamphetamine, all that good stuff - thanks to the Voltarians' super-advanced nervous systems, the drugs are five times more potent when consumed by them.  So the Apparatus will keep feeding drugs into Voltarian society, until everyone is good and addicted and unable to resist the Apparatus takeover.

I'm serious, that's his master plan.  World conquest through drug-dealing.

Hisst's rant continues; he curses Heller for almost blowing this whole scheme, but congratulates Gris for "setting him up" with the murderous Countess Krak.  Then he gives Gris his plans for Mission Earth - Heller will be shadowed by two thugs at all times, though hopefully this won't be necessary.  Because Heller's going to be given a very special cover identity.

See, there's a certain human on Earth who rose up from the gutters to take control of the planet, a businessman who controls the world's drug companies, finances, and governments, a person named Delbert John Rockecenter... seriously, Hubbard?  Well, Heller is going to assume the identity of Delbert John Rockecenter Junior in hopes that he'll end up in an insane asylum.  Because what are the odds that Heller, who has repeatedly proven his ability to win over people and defy the Apparatus' expectations, could use the identity as the son of the most powerful and well-connected man on Earth to foil the Apparatus' plots?

There's some other plans in motion - Tug One's crew consists of a bunch of "Antimancos," exiles from Manco who hate everyone on the planet, and who will certainly never get chummy with Heller.  There are fighter crews ready to blast apart Tug One if it attempts to leave Earth or is used locally.  As a last contingency, Gris is ordered to kill Heller if it looks like Mission Earth is getting out of control.  And finally, if Gris screws up, someone is out there ready to kill him.

While Gris tries to keep control over his bladder, Lombar Hisst is suddenly excited, because he hears the sound again - a voice calling to him, saying "Lombar Hisst!  Come be Emperor!  The destiny of Voltar pleads for you to take the crown!"  He's relieved that Gris was here to bear witness to his ordained destiny.

A conviction drove through me like a blastgun bolt.  Like the pieces of a puzzle spinning about on a board and suddenly assembling, all my experience with Lombar Hisst and tonight came together in a single vivid fact.  All the psychology textbook psychopathic symptoms of a paranoid schizophrenic, complete with megalomania and tonight, aural hallucinations, were there.

I was scared spitless!

Lombar Hisst was insane!

I was under the control of a complete lunatic!

And there was no possible way to escape it!

Yeah, now he puts the pieces together.  The paranoia and bursts of violence and obsessive secretiveness and bitter jealousy and vicious manipulation and ruthlessness, that was all fine, but hearing voices?  Ooooh, now we're in crazyland!  ...Wait, if psychology told Gris this, are we to assume that he's wrong?  Maybe Gris is the crazy one!  Eat your heart out, M. Night Shyamalan. 

To recap: the head of the Apparatus thinks that two people colliding on a sidewalk proves their collusion in a conspiracy against him.  His own paranoia has convinced him to take over an empire and institute a reign of genocide.  He thinks he can do this through the tactical application of cocaine.

It's nice to know that Gris isn't an outlier, and that everyone in the Apparatus, from the lowliest driver to the head of the agency itself, is an idiot who's terrible at his job.

So, question time: are we expected to take these guys seriously as a threat?  This is a work of satire, remember, where Hubbard is expressing his scorn of his enemies, so maybe we're supposed to view the Apparatus as a bunch of incompetent goofballs.  And yet Battlefield Earth featured villains displaying a similar level of stupidity and incompetence, and it wasn't labelled a satire or anything.

Guess we'll have to... ugh... read on and see what happens in later books, if the Apparatus makes any headway or if some more villainous group usurps them as the series' Big Bads.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Four - This is a Test of the Heller Monitoring System

Heller's anesthetics wear off late in the afternoon, and Gris has Ske bring the airbus around so Heller can embark without the Widow Tayl seeing him and going into more hysterics.  They drop him off at the hangar so he can continue to recover in Tug One, while Gris goes home to his apartment to see if the bugging equipment works.

Initial tests are disappointing, showing only darkness and silence.  But after cranking up all the receivers and installing that super-relayer, Gris can just make out a rhythmic, faint sound - Heller snoring.  He soon wakes up when the Countess Krak comes home, revealing distorted, low-quality images of her haranguing him for letting himself be unconscious in Gris' presence.  She's mollified when Heller produces the recording device, and with the sounds of Gris expressing his nausea at the sight of Heller's blood, Krak nods to herself, content that her hypnotic suggestions are still working.

We also learn that Heller's idea for a good lock combination is 3-2-1.  This is obviously meant to be the endearing kind of stupid, not the Gris kind.

There's a dangerous moment when Heller inspects the "arrowhead" the doctor left him as a souvenir, and is puzzled because he remembers an obsidian arrowhead, while he's holding some flint.  But he shrugs it off.  He must be out of it, or else he would have noticed - with his uncanny eyesight and geologic knowledge - that the arrowhead's granulation was identical to the ornamental statues in the widow's garden.  Which was something Gris really should have remembered when trying to pull one over Heller, but that's why he's a Hubbard Villain.

Gris watches and listens through Heller's eyes and ears as he sits in Tug One's sauna (!) for a bit before working out.  He learns some vital intelligence when the Countess reveals that she, in her soldier disguise, has been practicing for the big launch party in two days, so Gris finally learns when Mission Earth will actually be departing.  But he's disappointed in how low-quality the transmissions from Heller are, even from just a few miles away, and despairs at how he's supposed to monitor him on Earth (or more specifically, Turkey, while Heller flails around the States).

And then Heller steps outside Tug One, with its magical stealth shielding that blocks all energy waves, and immediately Gris is nearly defined by the sound and blinded by the crisp images coming through.  And his landlady yells at him for having his space TV turned up too loud, and there is much merriment to be had by all.

So the bugs work, and Gris knows when he's supposed to meet with his boss before the mission departs.  The only damper on his good mood comes when he listens to the Countess and Heller swearing bloody retribution on whoever harms the other while they're apart.

Only five chapters left.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Three - There's Some Hope for the Boy After All

Hanging around in the gardens, Gris sees Dr. Bittlestiffender emerge from the operating room and search the outdoors for something.  He goes over to a statue of a (wood) nymph and uses a tool on it, then swirls something held by his tweezers in a vial of blood, before putting the object in a case.  Then he proudly walks over to Gris like he was expecting the agent to pat him on the head and say "Good barker."

"Barker."  Presumably that's a dog.  You didn't even bother to mash two similar animals' names together this time, Hubbard, what gives?   Running out of steam already, in the first book of your epic ten-part series?  I'm not looking forward to the rest of them.

Prahd explains that he's got the "stone arrowhead fragment" he "extracted" from Heller's skull.  Gris, being a quick-witted Apparatus agent, can only stare and say "You didn't get this out of his head.  I saw you pick it up, right over there." But he eventually figures out that Prahd might have some hope as an intelligence asset.

The next page or so is the doctor explaining all the work he did, of skin cells taken and legitimate distinguishing marks removed, but he assures Gris that Heller is good and bugged.  Gris isn't ready to declare the doctor's "test" complete yet, though, and orders him to ship out to his new posting, and study the languages of English, Turkish and Italian during his voyage.  The doctor will board the ship by hiding in one of the supply crates being packed, because pointless secrecy is what the Apparatus is all about.  Gris warns that the doctor is not to interact with a certain homosexual crew member, and to maintain utmost mission security, or else he'll have the mansion razed and the Widow Tayl executed.

I was about to say "rape the Widow Tayl" but she'd be overjoyed by that.

I hear this is just a preview of Gris' future offenses.

Having played the role of Bad Cop (and Rock Stupid Cop) quite effectively, Gris is about to shift into Good Cop mode, which involves staring at the subject while "smiling in a Lordly way," but is interrupted by the Widow Tayl calling the boys in for lunch.  They sit down at the table and she has another episode remembering the way Heller stuffed his red cap in the pocket.  Gris is outraged that the nymphomaniac who has already been physically unfaithful to him, with the man sitting next to him no less, is now committing mental adultery with a man who hasn't even seen her.

I'm trying to take comfort in the fact that a lot of the cast will be left behind on Voltar for the next book or so, except I have a feeling that the new characters we'll be meeting on Earth won't be any better.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter Two - What

Unabridged version here.

The good news about this chapter is that it's short.

Gris' fantasies of driving a metal spike into Heller's frontal lobe are interrupted by the Widow Tayl, who whispers that she has something to show him.  Since he has a few hours to spare, Gris is happy to be led to a secluded part of the manor.  He's particularly appreciative of the doctor's efforts to tighten up and de-wart the widow, and lies down with her on a pad, but...

Well, the short version is this: Gris keeps his clothes on, Tayl reminisces about how Heller disembarked from the airbus "so smoothly" and how his toes "caressed the ground," and the end result is similar to the earlier chapter where windows burst open and things fall over, except Gris is merely watching in increasing confusion.  Apparently just the sight of Jettero Heller getting out of a car and walking into a building is powerfully stimulating to certain women.  Eventually Gris gets fed up and leaves.

It isn't erotic, it isn't funny, it's baffling and weird and delaying this awful book's ending.

Back to Chapter One 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Part Eleven, Chapter One - Gris Triumphant

Nine chapters to go, folks.

Ske and Gris bring Heller to the Widow Tayl's private "hospital," where Dr. Prahd is waiting.  Presumably at this point Hubbard was as tired of typing "Bittlestiffender" as I am.  The doctor, a little nervous since Ske told him just how screwed he is if he messes up, ushers Heller into the operating room.  They pass the Widow Tayl on the way, who stands as though transfixed - Gris recognizes the symptoms of "adoration fixation" and regrets that he has that affect on women.

You can laugh if you want to, but I'm not really feeling it.

Once in the little surgical suite, the doctor has Heller strip down, with Gris hanging around like it's normal for a third party to be present for someone's physical.  Prahd compliments Heller on being "certainly extremely well built.  And equipped," like it's normal for doctors to compliment patients on the quality of their genitals (edit from the future: this is a warning sign, right here).  Gris admits to himself that Heller could be considered a handsome man with the sculpted physique of an athlete, but calls the doctor's focus away from Heller's groin and to the "glaring" distinguishing marks that need removal.

This leads to the story of the stone arrowhead Heller got shot with, which the doctor is shocked to learn was never formally treated.  So Prahd takes an X-ray - excuse me, "viewplate" - and aims it at Heller's head, and sure enough finds signs of "creeping penetration syndrome," which will kill Heller in a few years if left untreated.  In fact, with this terrible injury, there's no way Heller can be sent on Mission Earth.

Fortunately, the procedure to remove the arrowhead will only take a couple of hours.  Heller is extremely reluctant to go along with this, since he's promised a certain someone to never be unconscious in the presence of a certain other someone.  But Gris produces a camera - excuse me, "security recorder" - that can be locked on Heller's wrist with a set combination, thereby assuring him that nothing bad happens while he's out.  Heller heaves a weary sigh and straps the thing on, resting his wrist on a little wheeled table at Gris' direction, while mentally the Apparatus agent dances with glee.

So Heller gets hit with the anesthesia, while Gris plays nurse to Dr. Prahd.  He feigns nausea and distress for the benefit of the tape and flees into the hallway.  There he tugs on the string he had cunningly concealed the previous day, rolling the wheeled table Heller's wrist is resting on so that his arm flops to his side, aiming the not-camera at the side of his bed.

I'm not sure if I should compliment Gris on finding a simple, low-tech solution to his problem, or harangue him for not coming up with something that didn't depend on a length of string, especially since he was the one supplying the recording equipment in the first place.

The chapter ends with an exultant Gris... and a paragraph about lobotomies, or more specifically how he regrets being unable to put Heller through one.  A lobotomy is, as you're no doubt well-aware, the horrifically-violent procedure devised by those loathsome Earth psychiatrists, guaranteed to either kill your victim outright or reduce them to a vegetative state that will see them dead in five years, tops.  Apparently no one told Hubbard that this particular treatment was largely out of use by the 1970's, fifteen years before Mission Earth's release.  But I guess he was too busy writing the book to do any research on what he was saying in it.

Now I'm worrying that we'll see a lot of discos when we get to Earth.

Back to Part Ten, Chapter Nine

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Part Ten, Chapter Nine - Gris Throws a Temper Tantrum

After a bad night's sleep caused by a dream of Countess Krak kicking the tar out of him despite his efforts to explain that her rage is the result of an Electra complex, Gris sets out to complete the last step of preparation for Mission Earth - getting Jettero Heller bugged, hopefully without Miss Crazy Legs finding out that a surgeon's knife has touched her precious Heller.

So what cunning ruse does Gris employ to get Heller to go along with this?  "You have a physical readiness appointment."  I know, I know, it's shocking for an Apparatus agent to go with a simple, straightforward, but effective scheme.  Of course you'd be expected to take a physical before an important mission, that's only sensible.

But Heller disagrees.  He insists that he's in fine condition, and doesn't need no physical.  So Gris explains that Heller needs to have any distinguishing marks removed that would blow his cover, which is made difficult due to the fact that Heller's just so damn awesome that despite years of combat he's practically scar-free.  The best Gris can find is a nick from a stone arrowhead earned on some backwater planet.  He also cites some nonexistent regulations to try to get Heller to go along, but the veteran commando shrugs them off, saying that as a Fleet officer he's not bound by Apparatus protocols.

So Gris throws a temper tantrum.

Apparently he learned this from the black arts of Psychology!, which explains how a child's tantrum leaves adults with no choice to surrender.  It's a complex five-step process that Gris confesses he owes much of his success to.

Step 1: Call Heller a big "meanie."
Step 2: Negation, in which Gris shrieks that if Heller doesn't do what he wants, he'll never get Gris' stamp on paperwork ever again.
Step 3: Convulsive Denial, i. e. flopping onto your back and pounding the floor with your fists and heels.
Step 4: Frothing, in which you slip some soap into your mouth
And luckily Heller caves before Gris gets to Step 5: Simulated Death Rattle

I guess we're supposed to be laughing at this, but... this is stupid, even for this book.  We're expected to believe that psychological textbooks include this as a plan to solve problems?  That a bunch of academics practice how to properly thrash around on the ground?  Probably not.  So then the more reasonable explanation is that Gris had been reading up on psychology, found an analysis of a child's tantrum, and somehow interpreted it as a blueprint for getting people to do what he wants.  So Gris is a balefully idiotic man, then.  Oh, and apparently no Voltarian child has ever attempted this sort of hissy-fit, or else Gris wouldn't have been captivated by it and unleashed it upon his unsuspecting coworkers.

Good God, this is dumb.

Anyway.  Heller is quite dumbstruck by Gris' little seizure, but laughs it off and is willing to go along with Gris so that his comrade doesn't get in trouble with his boss.  D'awww.  Meanwhile Gris cackles because his cunning ruse has succeeded.

Earth psychology works every time!  Not as pleasant, of course, as a Bugs Bunny activity.  But every bit as effective!  Those psychologists and psychiatrists on Earth have it down pat!  They can fool the suckers every time!  Absolute masters of cold-blooded deception and chicanery!

Satisfyingly cruel, too.  Just like my plans for today.

I think the "satire" in this book has officially broken down.  I'm not talking about how Hubbard has abandoned what little subtlety he was capable of, I'm saying that logically it doesn't make sense anymore.

So Gris read a book on psychology, which contained an analysis of an infantile tantrum.  He interpreted it as a way to warp others to his will.  Most readers would conclude from this that Gris is a bit of an utter moron.  This calls into question every single thing he's said about psychology in the book thus far, making it possible, if not very likely, that he's completely misread the situation and has no clue what he's talking about.  Our viewpoint character is misinformed and self-deluded, not to mention a bit of a dumbass.

And yet, Hubbard obviously intends for Gris' opinions to be correct, that psychologists are just as evil and manipulative as he says they are.  So if the author agrees with the insane, idiotic character he wrote, what does that say about him?  How can a person who has no grasp of a situation satirize it?  How can we view this book as anything else but a wretched story providing insight into the mind of a madman?

Back to Part Ten, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Part Ten, Chapter Eight - Oh God, Foreshadowing

Ske's driving is somewhat impaired by his wounded and bandaged hands, which isn't helped when Gris wallops him for chatting with Bittlestiffender and describing what a loathsome murderer Gris is while the agent was "comforting" the Widow Tayl.  And though seeing Gris and Ske perish in a fiery car crash would be a satisfying ending to this book, there's still just under a hundred pages left, so no such luck. 

Along the way Gris gets a call from Lombat Hisst's secretary informing him of a meeting.  Hisst is already waiting in the hanger, disguised as an exterminator along with a professional Apparatus burglar, a saboteur, and a scientist.  He has Gris don a similar jumpsuit, orders a distraction to keep Heller away from Tug One for a few moments, and the group slips aboard to inspect Heller's cargo.

Which they could and should have ordered inspected the instant it arrived on Apparatus property, passing the numerous security checkpoints you'd expect from such a paranoid agency.  But this is a work of biting satire, where logic and verisimilitude are less important than rants about the author's enemies.

The first few crates Heller's already loaded contain nothing more than spare parts, but others are more of interest to the mission of making Mission Earth fail.  Heller's packed a "miniature heavy-metal conversion plant," a device that uses Science! to turn elements into uranium or such.  Hisst chooses to ignore it, since Earth already has plenty of uranium, so he can't imagine why the humans would be interested.  But the other device is more problematic: "Elementary School Kit 13" uses laughably simple Voltarian Science! to convert carbon into hydrogen or oxygen, which would obviously be helpful in counteracting global warming.

But Lombar was thinking. "(Bleep) it, that thing could upset everything. Particularly one certain Earth person!"

"Precisely," said the scientist. "And I know you don't want to offend HIM!"

Oh boy.  There is another.  A mysterious Earthling with a vested interest in keeping the environment in the crapper, a human that even Lombar Hisst steps lightly around.

I bet this unrevealed villain turns out to be a psychologist.

So Hisst has his saboteur, uh, sabotage the pair of carbon converters, while Gris looks on.  Before you can ask yourself why they need Gris around in the first place, Hisst orders Gris to distract Heller so that the others can make their escape.  What follows is a hilarious four pages of Gris asking Heller if he needs anything, if there's anything he needs to stamp, if there's any last-minute purchases required for the mission, and so forth, while nervously checking over his shoulder to see if Hisst is through disembarking yet.  Gris ends up ordering a bunch of flowers and wreathes, enough bubblebrew and tup for a proper lift-off party, five separate bands, dancing bears, fireworks, new uniforms for the guards, nice clothes for the Countess Krak, the whole shebang.  All the while Heller is trying to hide his smile and Gris is mentally screaming "MY GODS, WHERE THE HELLS WAS LOMBAR!" and in the end he turns around and notices that the "exterminators'" car is long gone.  Buh-dum-tish.

Gris gets stuck with a nearly nine hundred credit bill, which threatens his newfound wealth, and realizes that he's just signed off for an extravagant party for what was supposed to be a secret mission.  The chapter concludes with - say it with me now - Gris being miserable.

Back to Chapter Eight

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Part Ten, Chapter Seven - Everything Is Coming Up Gris

The next day, Gris has Ske fly him to the Widow Tayl's manor to get everything ready for Heller's surgical bugging.  Along the way he reads a newspaper, the headlines of which all relate to last night's hijinks.  There's "SORROWING SUPPLY OFFICER SUICIDES" covering Colonel Stinkens' death, with the note that his ex-wife was hospitalized for hysteric laughter.  The fire that Gris set at the surveillance shop ended up gutting thirty-one businesses, with fifteen watchmen missing.  Raza Torr's body has already been discovered, but the cause of death has been listed as "struck by a passing airbus and fallen ten thousand feet."

And then there's Raza's stolen vehicle.  At some point Gris apparently sent it off on autopilot, and it ended up crashing into the Hospital of Good Mercy's children's wing, collapsing the roof so there's no body count yet.  But the doctor interviewed just waves it off, as they "were going to abandon that wing anyway."  So... humor?  Har har, Gris killed a bunch of sick kids but the doctor doesn't care either so it's all okay?  Is this more of Hubbard's special brand of satire?

Well, Gris is in a good mood since it looks like his tracks are good and covered.  And the Widow Tayl and Bittlestiffender the "cellologist" are also in a good mood, lounging by her pool and making lovey-dovey faces at each other.  The widow's even got bandages from some minor surgery removing a few warts and tightening up her bust.

Gris introduces himself as Officer Gris, as recommended by Professor Slahb, who he claims is his granduncle after the young doctor notices how uncannily Gris sounds like the "professor."  He and Ske unload the crates full of medical supplies for the upcoming surgery, but Stiffy notices some bloodstains on them.  We get some more comedy as Gris quickly rushes outside, stabs Ske in the hands with his knife before the doctor can see, and uses "steel slivers" to explain the blood on the supplies.

With that settled, the Widow Tayl comes by to thank Gris for bringing over the young doctor... in her own special way.  It involves a grinning cupid statue rocking on its stand as the widow explains just how wonderful her evening with the doctor was.

And that's about it.  Everything's set up so Heller can be bugged, and then Mission Earth should be underway.  Finally.  No other dangling subplots, and the main plot is slowly but steadily progressing.

Shame there's only ninety pages left in the book for it to go anywhere.

Back to Chapter Six