Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Part Nineteen, Chapter Four - The Man with the Golden Llama

Gris only "lightly" watches Heller go through his Saturday night, since he's more interested in his upcoming Nature Appreciation class with the sinister Miss Simmons the following Sunday afternoon.  Seriously, you can be forced to go to class on Sunday?  Surely someone would've challenged that for religious reasons.  Or maybe this is satire about the godlessness and moral degeneration of modern America.

While Heller's working his shift in the whorehouse lobby that night, two South American chaps, upon hearing that he's an engineer - a student, nuclear engineer - consult him for a bridge they're planning.  Heller reminds them to "float" the endpoints to weather earthquakes, while Gris snidely notes that Heller's sketch showed that the bridge should end at the shore, not in the water.  After that he's visited by the two diplomats that were feuding over Harlotta until Heller threatened to kill her, who have a gift for him - a golden Llama .45 pistol, engraved with the the diplomats' homelands' coats of arms, while the holster has a white dove of peace (irony!) and "Prince X" on it.  Gris is bitterly jealous but admits that it's a proper gangster gun.

Hmm.  If Hubbard had grown up a decade or two later, this book could've been obsessed with cowboys and Indians... wait a minute, Battlefield Earth had a lot of buckskin in it... but then where did the Scots come from?

Sunday rolls around, and Gris tunes in expecting to see his enemy take another class.  But instead a breakthrough occurs - the waves of interference emanating from Heller's groin cut out, giving Gris and us a titillating glimpse at what goes on when one of those beautiful hookers drags Heller into his bedroom.

Heller's on his bed, massaging the neck of a half-dressed girl named Myrtle, who groans that "Seventeen times is too many!" and "I feel like I've been raped by an elephant!"  Once he's done, Myrtle staggers out, complaining that she doesn't want "another night like that" but asking if she can come back later.  A horrified Gris concludes that Heller's "effected a transference on this poor girl!  Enslaved her into chronic masochism!"

See, when Gris purchases a living sex toy, he's not mean enough to mold her into enjoying his kinks.  That's just gross.

Heller calls to check on his cars, and gives the mechanic servicing the old cab instructions to mix a special, unidentified substance into the paint for an unexplained reason.  Gris, of course, is not suspicious of this in the least, nor does he rewind his Heller footage to try to find what he's talking about.  Then the time for talk is over as Heller's breakfast sundae shows up.  I am not joking, the first part of his breakfast is chocolate-covered ice cream.

With sugar covered, spice soon arrives in the form of a leggy blonde named Semantha... dammit Hubbard.  There are puns, and then there are bad porn names.

Anyway, the girl warns Heller of that tricksie Myrtle, and asks if she sat seductively like so, or stepped out of her robe like this, or sauntered into the bedroom like this... you get the picture.  It ends with the hooker naked on Heller's bed, legs splayed and her hand roaming over her body, hips waggling in her attempts to get Heller to join her.

"Semantha," said Heller, "Get out of that bed and come in here."

"Oh, pretty boy," she pouted.  "You're going to make me stand up and hold that position while you . . ."

And cue the interference.  But yeah, the line was probably "paint me" or something, part of Heller's study of ethnology and body structure of the Manco-descended races.  And the other stuff was probably massage sessions.  Platonic, with Gris drooling over a hilarious misunderstanding.

So the chapter ends with Gris outraged at Heller's behavior the morning of his Nature Appreciation class, and frustrated that Utanc hasn't been delivered yet, but looking forward to Miss Simmons' wrath that afternoon.

Meanwhile I ask - what happened this chapter?  Heller got a shiny gun and made a phone call foreshadowing his modifications to a car.  But did the plot move forward any?  It's hard to say when we have no clue what's going on.

Gris is right in the sense that a lot of things keep happening to Heller, namely gifts and praise being showered upon him, and he is making ridiculously rapid progress through the mob and university hierarchies.  But there's no sense of purpose to any of it, no feeling that it's actually leading anywhere.  According to the author Heller has some sort of plan he's working toward, but since we're not told what this plan is, and the character carrying it out is totally closed to us, Mission Earth feels less like a story and more like a bunch of events taking place one after the other.

It's like a bad Dungeons & Dragons campaign, really - too much treasure, lousy and incompetent villains who die before we know why they should be defeated, random encounters inexplicably leading to wealth and power, and a plot in only the loosest sense.

Back to Chapter Three

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Part Nineteen, Chapter Three - She May Not Look Like Much, But She's Got It Where It Counts

Another day goes by of Heller sitting on the campus lawn speed-reading his way through multiple courses, while Bang-Bang ogles women between fetching tape recorders.  And Gris watches all of it.  Saturday, at least, has Heller going to a counselor to see what kind of tutoring he needs.  He takes some exams... huh.  After three days of college, covering self-administered courses, and taken right before the interview.  Maybe Hubbard meant "tests," not full exams.

Anyway, Heller of course aces everything, and his adviser boggles at the extreme improvement of a former D student.  Heller coyly mentions that "Sometimes students have been known to date the wrong somebody's daughter," and when the wide-eyed counselor asks if he got someone knocked up, replies "Well I'm here for my senior year, aren't I?"  And a good laugh is had by all as Heller's waived of any need for tutoring.  Gris is so despondent he actually gets off his ass, yells at some kids picking grapes until they burst into tears, and kicks them until he feels better.

Is there a third character we could be following around, Hubbard?  A student teacher who loves her job but worries that she can't handle the stress, a garbage collector who composes poetry while hauling trash around, a clerk having a mid-life crisis and contemplating an affair with an attractive young intern?  Someone human, someone relatable, someone likeable?

Invigorated by this child abuse, Gris calls his taxi driver and is assured that Utanc the mail-order belly dancer is due to arrive on schedule, which further boosts his spirits.  "Watching that (bleeper) Heller being whistled into his room every night by gorgeous women had been getting to me more than I had admitted.  And that I never actually saw him doing anything with them made it even worse!  One's imagination runs riot sometimes!"

Gris isn't gay, by the way, he just wants to watch his hated enemy have sex.

Gris watches Heller jog, takes a break to check on his mafia hospital, and then it's back to the HellerVision.  And then there's five pages about Heller's new car.  The short version: Mortie the War Criminal-Turned-Cabbie is selling his company's Really Red Cab, the battered antique he took Heller driving in oh so many chapters ago.  The whole thing is a gift ordered by Babe Corleone to repay Heller after he "spaghettied" Grafferty, and Vantagio at first refuses to buy such a piece of junk, insisting that Heller deserves an Italian import.  But Heller argues that the car is for Bang-Bang as part of his non-mob job, and if it gets cleaned up, with guys in Prohibition-era clothing...

This was Hubbard's last book, right?  Well, I think this is sorta like his dying dream, his fading of consciousness before death claimed him, all preserved on paper.  And as part of the process he reverted to his childhood, or more specifically his teenage years, when cops and mobsters chased each other with Tommy guns and bootleggers threw wild parties at speakeasies.  So gangsters, gangsters everywhere, even in the 80's.  Especially in the 80's.  The world he was living in was strange and hostile to him, so he went to one he was more comfortable with. 

Mortie says that the refurbished cab could win big money in car shows, Heller suggests fixing it up as the "Corleone Cab Company" with faux mobsters and cops hanging around in period clothing for the parade, and of course Babe would be delighted with this so the purchase goes ahead.  Vantagio briefly considers taking the credit, but tells Heller to tell Babe that it was his idea after all.  And Gris, like the reader, is baffled why Heller wants two cars

For once, some sixth sense--which you can't do without in the Apparatus--told me

Wait wait wait, if it's required to survive in the Apparatus, why is it only going off "for once?"

that this went beyond the Fleet toy fetish. I writhed. (Bleep) him, he was going too fast!  Too fast!  

Gris actually thinks this book is racing along too fast. 

He could finish up and accomplish something and ruin me!  

So what are you going to do about it?  Write another memo?  Kick a Turkish street urchin?  Buy another prostitute?

Back to Chapter Two

Monday, February 27, 2012

Part Nineteen, Chapter Two - Officer Material

Heller takes a jog around campus.  Then he rounds up more tape recorders.  Then he returns to the "command post," but Bang-Bang isn't there.  He waits for a bit, then goes to pick up another batch of lecture recordings.  Then he goes to the "command post" and sits around for half an hour, waiting on Bang-Bang.

Gris does nothing besides watch Heller check his watch.

Eventually, "something" approaches, Bang-Bang looking "more like a mound of baggage with two legs than a person."  He dumps everything on the super-duper high-tech picnic blanket and gives his "battle report" of "Jerome Terrance Wister"''s first day in ROTC.  During the physical he learned that he has cirrhosis, but still passed with the caveat that he give up drinking before he expires.  Then Bang-Bang insisted on getting a uniform that fit , and after that he got into an argument over a "defective" weapon - he objected to the fact that his training M-1 rifle had its firing pin sawn off, and yelled until they promised to give him a working firearm to practice with.

The bit that makes Gris queasy is when Bang-Bang recounts his interview with a lieutenant, in which he was asked which service "Wister" was interested in.  Since he figured Heller wouldn't want to be in the basic infantry, military police, artillery, or armor, he put him down for G-2 - Military Intelligence.  Hence his load of Restricted and Confidential books and pamphlets, such as How to Talk Secret, How to Sneak Somebody Back of [sic] the Enemy Lines to Poison the Water, and How to Seduce the Wife of the Enemy General and Get Her to Give You Tomorrow's Battle Plans.  Bang-Bang describes them as "Good, solid stuff" twice.

And Heller, an alien sent to infiltrate Earth in preparation of an invasion, laughs and laughs about being trained in intelligence work.  Bang-Bang laughs too, and since he's a "Marine infiltrating the Army" he creeps around on all fours in a bad pantomime of skullduggery.  And Gris?  Gris flies into action!  Yes, faced with the prospect of his enemy learning spycraft (again), he sends a second dispatch to the Apparatus outpost in New York, telling them to find the hell out of Raht and Terb!

Then he settles down in front of the viewscreen to keep watching Heller.  I mean, he could catch a flight to the States and get physically involved in keeping his plans from collapsing around him, but, meh.  Besides, he's got that mail-order prostitute pending.  Wouldn't want that left on the porch.

Back to Chapter One 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Part Nineteen, Chapter One - College, Abridged

Alrighty, home stretch... ha!  For a second there I forgot that this was a brick of a novel arbitrarily chopped into ten volumes.  So I guess I shouldn't expect anything like a denouement or climax to wrap up Black Genesis, just more chapters in which things may or may not happen.

It's the next morning and Gris is, of course, still watching HellerVision,.  There's no indication that he's pulled himself away from the viewscreen, that he's slept, eaten, or bathed.  He has no existence outside of commenting on Heller's... huh, got an odd sense of vertigo there.  Anyway, most of the chapter's first paragraph concerns what Heller and Bang-Bang Rimbombo are wearing as they head out to Empire University, but with the last sentence Gris notes that Heller is carrying two large backpacks stuffed with "things I had no clue about."  Even though Gris is pretty much constantly spying on Heller, watching him eat and undress and everything, he evidently missed the minutes Heller spent packing those bags and can't be arsed to rewind the tape.

It's a moot point, really, since we'll see what Heller packed in a moment.  But it's still stupid.

Heller and the mob bomber make it to campus, and Heller picks out a patch of lawn as the Command Post.  He gets Bang-Bang to synchronize watches with him, hands him a copy of the "schedule of plantings we took up last night in the suite," and urges Bang-Bang to treat his mission like a matter of "timed fuses."  Gris is confused, thinking that Heller really is planning to blow up the campus.  So Gris, who is constantly spying on Heller, missed the part the previous evening when Bang-Bang and Heller scheduled their plantings, and cannot be bothered to check the recordings.

You know, Hubbard, you could've had Gris following Heller around in a masterful disguise, commenting and speculating on his actions but unable to react without blowing his cover, and unable to follow him into certain locations.  This way Gris would perform much the same function you're using him for here, but there wouldn't be the problem of a near-omnipresent narrator somehow missing crucial information.  Just a thought.

Heller swaps his red baseball hat with Bang-Bang's USMC cap to preserve operational security and sends the mafia bomber off on his mission.  Then Heller spreads out a Voltarian "ground sheet" - "one of those inch square ones that open up to ten square feet!  The kind that change color to match the ground!"  Next he brings out another Voltarian gadget, an inflatable backrest.  All this because Hubbard can't abide his main character using a puny human picnic blanket and folding chair, and because Gris didn't friggin' check Heller's luggage for mission-compromising space-age contraband.

His outpost all set up, Heller dumps out the piles of books he brought along and spends the next three pages reading. 

Heller demolishes an abridged collection of Dickens (a quarter-inch thick with very large print), and has just as little trouble with a similarly-sized abridgement of the world's greatest literature.  That done, he opens his notebook and next to High-School English Literature puts down the Voltarian mathematical symbol for "operation complete."  Next to fall is English Literature I for First Year College as Passed by the American Medical Association.  The Complete Significances You Should Get Out of Literature and What You Should Think About It, allowing him to put a similar mark next to First Year College Literature.

Our hero is, of course, using his super-human speed reading and memorization skills to flip through this books fast enough to make Gris dizzy, thus allowing Heller to wave off the tutoring requirements of Miss Simmons.  Or something.  Gris explains it with "When he went to get tutored on English literature he would just make a vulgar gesture with his thumb and say, 'Yah, yah, yah!'"  The important thing is that Heller is winning again!  Thrill as our hero effortlessly overcomes any obstacle put in his way!

Bang-Bang runs over, gasps that he "planted them," and stretches out for a nap.  While he sleeps, Heller takes a full half-hour to wrap up College Journalism, which requires an end-of-course paper.  So he writes about one of the fairy tales included in the first year journalism text (just go with it).  I'm sure you can guess which one.


Circulation today was boosted by the timely event of a continent vanishing.  Publishers ecstatic.

The event was further heightened by a conflict of opinion by leading experts.

However, an unknown expert leaked to this paper--sources cannot be disclosed despite Supreme Court rulings--that all was not known about this event.

The unidentified expert, who shall remain nameless, declared that this colony had been founded by an excursion from outer space under the command of that sterling revolutionary and nobleman of purpose and broad vision, none other than Prince Caucalsia from the province of Atalanta, planet of Manco.

Some of the survivors, who emigrated immediately to the Caucasus, which is behind the Iron Curtain and human beings can't usually go there, were incarcerated by the KGB.  Deportation soon followed and they arrived maybe in New York.

The public will be kept informed.

This epic piece of journalism-in-training finished, Heller wakes Bang-Bang and asks for his opinion.  Bang-Bang marvels that anyone able to use big words like "incarcerpated" must be a genius, before hurrying off to continue with his schedule of mysterious plantings.  And this allows Heller to pass himself in Journalism with an "in-the-field citation."

Wish I'd known you were allowed to self-administer your exams and grade yourself on what your friend said.

High-school chemistry makes Heller yawn, and high-school physics annoys him - "Agree amongst you on something, will you?"  College physics makes him laugh about "primitive superstitions," and our puny Earth trigonometry makes him comment "You sure take the long way around."  You need to understand that you, as a human, are an idiot, living on a stupid, corrupt planet, so you should get on your knees and thank your lucky stars that this brilliant spaceman is here to show you the way.

After a lunch break, it's time for Bang-Bang to masquerade as Heller for ROTC, so it'll be the alien's turn to "set charges."  But Heller still has time to kill, allowing him to read a newspaper.  He explicitly looks for something about Grafferty, who I guess is the book's bad guy since Mr. Bury's disappeared and everyone else keeps dying.  While there is an article about the police chief, it claims that he rescued someone from a burning spaghetti parlor, making Heller wryly comment about "the grave responsibility of keeping the public informed."  In case sarcasm goes over your head, Gris explains that the media's purpose is, "of course, to keep the public misinformed!"

But with this scorn comes some worrying doubts - Gris wonders if Heller might start thinking after absorbing all of this data.  He also worries that, since Russian students are trained from kindergarten in espionage so they can spy on their parents, and America likes to copy things from Russia... sorry, had a mild stroke.  Anyway, Gris is watching with bated breath in case Heller's curriculum includes courses on espionage, something he absolutely must not learn about.

Apparently all that stuff the FBI agents taught him back in Part Fifteen, Chapter Four, like how to defeat security systems and track people down, doesn't count as espionage.  Or else Gris has completely forgotten about it.

Eventually Heller gets up and we get to see what Bang-Bang was scurrying around doing.  He makes it to a classroom just as the students are filing out, and reaches into the trash can.

He pulled out a tape recorder!

He shut it off.

He put it in the rucksack.

Heller pulled out a small instant recording camera, stepped back and shot the diagrams on the blackboard.

He put the camera away.

He left the room.

He raced over to another building.

...where he turns on and dumps another tape recorder in the trashcan, cleverly hiding it with a layer of debris.  Yep, Heller's got it planned so he doesn't have to physically attend a single class, just record the lectures so he can speed-learn them later back at his suite in the whorehouse, presumably between rounds of mind-blowing sex with beautiful women.  Gris is, of course, horrified that despite Miss Simmons' valiant efforts, Heller might graduate.

I had a momentary glimmer of hope.  There might be quizzes.  There might be lab periods.  But then I sank into a deeper gloom.  Heller had probably figured those out, too!

Our villain fully understands just how hopeless it is to oppose our book's hero.  He doesn't even waste time speculating over the specifics, he just knows the hero will win.

(Bleep) him, he was defeating the efforts to defeat him!  My hand itched for a blaststick!  I had better quadruple any effort I was making to put an end to him!

Gris, honey?  YOU!  AREN'T!  MAKING!  ANY!  EFFORT!  You are sitting on your ass in Turkey, watching TV, waiting for the sex slave you purchased to show up, and fuming that Heller keeps succeeding despite your non-attempts to stop him  The most you've done for half the book now is send a memo telling your incompetent field agents to get in touch with you whenever they happen to report in, and lose your temper and blow away a canary.  You aren't a real character anymore, you're some kind of badly-thought-out plot device.

...Hey, you know what I realized?  We never learned what that Mysterious Something that Heller ordered was, the one that was going to be delivered last night.  Presumably the delivery happened, and Gris probably saw it, but we aren't going to be told about it yet for no other reason than to preserve the surprise.

Back to Part Eighteen, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Eight - I'm So Tired of This Book I Could Burp

The chapter starts with the line "An hour later, Heller came out of his room," so right away things are screwed-up.  Since Gris is, remember, watching the novel's events unfold through magical surveillance equipment that lets him see through Heller's eyes, it'd be better to say that Heller left his room.  But no, it's written like Gris is waiting out in the hall for Heller to show up, even though he had to be watching Heller do whatever he was doing for the past hour.

Splitting hairs, perhaps?  It gets better.

Heller goes to a gym, in cleats, to meet Bang-Bang Rimbombo.  The mob demolitionist is hanging out in the sauna, sweating off several days' hangovers.  Heller asks if Bang-Bang's taken care of what he asked him to, and I have no idea what he's talking about because the book doesn't tell us.

I checked the previous chapter, but Heller only asked for Bang-Bang's phone number and didn't talk with him yet.  I kept flipping back to see if I missed a phone call, but no such luck.  The last time they were actually in the same place was just about eighty pages ago, when Heller was designing the ultimate gas-guzzling pimpmobile, and it doesn't look like he was asking anything of Bang-Bang then.  So I can only conclude that Heller's mysterious request happened in his hotel suite, over the phone, WHILE GRIS WAS WATCHING.

Gris is a narrator who's constantly spying on the book's hero, in order to provide sarcastic and mocking commentary on what's going on, to describe the actions of a "good guy" through the lens of an utter bastard.  But, in order to occasionally provide the story with a hint of mystery (beyond the inexplicable actions of the main character), here Gris has to flat-out refuse to provide information he has no excuse not to possess.  We're not told he got up to take a nap or hit the can while Heller was in his suite.  He was clearly interested in how Heller planned to deal with the situation he was in, and was around to remark on what clothes Heller chose.  But he won't tell us what Heller said over the phone.

Remember all my complaints about the "censor static" that pops up whenever Heller might be doing something horizontal?  This is dumber.  A fundamental premise behind this story is broken because the author cannot rectify the narrative tricks he wants to use with his decision to have a voyeuristic, ever-present character as narrator.

And this story goes on for eight more books.  Christ on a pogo stick.

Anyway.  All we know about Heller's mysterious request is that it can be met by Father Xavier, who swings by once a week to hear Babe Corleone's confession, drop off a load of stolen birth control pills... Catholics, huh?  And then he visits the Gracious Palms.  The good shepherd will be by later tonight, so he can give "them" to Heller then.  And I must ask, if the Mystery Item will appear within a few hours, book time, why do you need to shroud it in secrecy?  Is the author so desperate for tension that he'll preserve this pitiful nugget of mystery for a few chapters?

With this all taken care of, Bang-Bang starts lamenting his situation.  Something about parole officers out to get him and whatnot - those nasty feds, picking on honest car-bombers.  If Bang-Bang doesn't get a job, with social security and everything, he'll spend another eight months in prison.  Now wait, you may ask, isn't Bang-Bang in the mob, part of a network of front businesses and more legitimate establishments that dabble in illicit activities?  Well, Bang-Bang refuses to have Babe Corleone set him up with something.  He's too famous, you see, and having him working a legitimate job might implicate Babe, and he doesn't want to get her in trouble.

Lemme just flip back to that newspaper article from 176 pages ago... ah, yes: "Bang-Bang is a trusted member of the notorious Corleone mob [...] The New York / New Jersey mob is run by the able and charming Babe Corleone, the ex of the late 'Holy Joe' Corleone."

Anyway, in order to protect his boss Bang-Bang needs a real job that can't be connected to the mafia.  Heller is sympathetic, but won't suggest a job for his friend for a few pages yet.  On the way out of the gym he punches a training dummy off its stand, so we can marvel at how strong he is.

We spend the rest of the chapter in Sardine's, an Italian restaurant controlled by the Corleones, so mobsters eat free.  Bang-Bang gets out the bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label he brought along for no reason other than to set up a scene in a few pages, prompting Heller to try to order beer of his own, which Bang-Bang objects to, causing a blood vessel in my brain to explode.  But fear not!  Cherubino Gatano, mustachioed waiter extraordinaire, produces some special Swiss non-alcoholic beer for Heller to enjoy!  Hooray!

Heller tasted it.  "Hello, hello!  Delicious!"

"You see," said Cherubino, starting to take the bottle away.  "You always were stupid, Bang-Bang."

"Leave the bottle," said Heller.  "I want to copy the label.  I'm so tired of soft cola I could burp!"

Let it be noted that Heller greeted a bottle of non-alcoholic booze with much the same enthusiasm he did for his (former?) love interest the Countess Krak.

While they wait for their food to arrive, Bang-Bang tells Heller about his days in the military.  He started as a promising Marine, then got to fly whirlybirds until his tendency to crash ("choppers full of bullets don't fly well") led to him undertaking specialist demolitions training.  No, I don't follow the logic either.

This lets Heller bring up his ROTC membership over the spaghetti, and he has a proposal for Bang-Bang.  Heller takes his oaths seriously, so he doesn't want to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution or anything, since he's, y'know, an alien preparing for an invasion.  But he says he can get Bang-Bang a job as a driver, if he'll assume Heller's identity, sign the oath, and attend the ROTC classes.  And Bang-Bang refuses, because he was in the Marines, dammit, so he's not going to even pretend to join the Army.

And then the bottle of smuggled beer Bang-Bang brought along to look at but not drink, his refusal to work with Heller, and the fact that Sardine's is frequented big-name theatrical stars like Johnny Matinee and Jean Lologiggida, all come together for the chapter's finale.

There's a commotion at the restaurant's door, and everyone starts craning their necks to see which famous actress will be making an appearance next.  But it's Police Inspector Grafferty, brazenly walking in on Corleone turf to mock Bang-Bang about his imminent return to prison.  Then he spots the illegal booze that Bang-Bang brought along so Grafferty could spot it.  But Heller is already quietly tucking the corner of the tablecloth into the policeman's pocket... before Grafferty starts harping about the booze.  Huh.  Our hero's in reflexive Dennis the Menace mode.

Well, from there things unfold about how you'd expect.  The policeman starts to complain about Heller being served beer while underaged, Heller protests that it's non-alcoholic, and then somehow Heller fumbles it so Bang-Bang's scotch goes over the side of the table.  Grafferty dives for it and takes the tabletop with him.  Heller "accidentally" kicks the illegal hooch out of reach and manages to smear tomato paste all over Grafferty's face in his attempts to clean him up.  And all the famous actors and actresses we've never heard of laugh at Grafferty, and the paparazzi take lots of pictures, and Grafferty's humiliated in front of his favorite actress before fleeing from the restaurant in shame.

All of this so that Hubbard can slather pasta on an antagonist's face while a crowd of people point and laugh. 

With the mob's enemy thus defeated, Bang-Bang agrees to Heller's plan of going to ROTC in his place, if only "because you're kind of fun to be around!"  Meanwhile Gris fumes at Heller getting so much attention for pulling off an old Academy prank.

That's the end of this Part.  Only six chapters to go.  Of this book, the second of a "dekalogy*."
* Dekalogy--a group of ten volumes.

Back to Part Eighteen, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Seven - Books With Excruciatingly Long Titles

So I guess the main plot point right now is Heller's problematic course schedule, right?  Money shouldn't be an issue much longer, and he's already found powerful allies in the mob.  His enemies, when they bother to move against him, have been easily thwarted and humbled.  Gris sure as hell isn't taking action.  So Heller's biggest obstacle to success is a malicious course load.


Thrilling and dumb.  All Heller has to do to resolve this problem is appeal to other faculty members, or complain to the mob-controlled university president.  Or, you know, manually drop and change some classes around.  I mean, does he have to graduate this semester?  If he was planning to go through college before getting around to saving the planet, he shouldn't be in any rush.

I'm also curious what the mob - or more specifically, Babe Corleone and Vantagio - were thinking.  Did they not see a downside to getting a young stranger a degree in nuclear physics, a "boy" fresh out of high school with no indication that he could manage a reactor without blowing it up?  And, if they were willing to get him enrolled as a senior, why didn't they go for broke and get him a ill-earned diploma?  Heck, why did they make him a senior in the first place?  Wouldn't it make more sense to just twist arms until he was admitted as a freshman?  

I suppose I should actually read the chapter.  Looks like Heller's buying books.

Gris watches - of course he does, he's always watching, he has no life beyond watching Heller live his - as Heller goes around campus, talking to professors, and making notes.  With a paper covered in Voltarian shorthand, he hits a bookstore to purchase the many, many texts required for him to graduate.  This proves difficult, as the student worker behind the counter can't find a copy of Euclid's Fundamentals of Geometry, or anything by Newton.  The closest they have are Euclidian Geometry as Interpreted and Rewritten by Professor Twist from an Adaption by I. M. Tangled and Laws of Motion I Have Rewritten and Adapted from a Text by Dr. Still as Translated from an Archaic English Newtonian Work by Elbert Mouldy (by Professor M. S. Pronounce, Doctor of Literature).

I think everyone in America should have a copy of this book.  Whenever you're feeling bored, or can't find anything better to do with your time, you can pick up Mission Earth, read a few paragraphs, and like magic you're filled with the urge to get up and do something, like run a load of laundry, check your car's fluids, floss, clean the gutters, anything but keep reading.

Fighting back the urge to go brush my teeth, I guess the satire here is that academics are reinterpreting old works instead of properly respecting the Old Ways?  Or something?  Like, instead of teaching math, universities teach interpretations of math?  Now, when I went through college I never saw anything like that, but maybe Hubbard had a different experience... in the 30's.  When exactly is this supposed to be taking place?  It came out in the 80s but it feels like the 60's and 70's.  Is this what Hubbard thought was going on back in America when he was sailing around the world to avoid the FBI?

Maybe we're just supposed to laugh at a doctor of literature named M. S. Pronounce.

Heller is sent to pick up his packs and packs full of books, two hundred pounds' worth, and he still needs to go to another store to get his copy of World History Rewritten by Competent Propagandists for Kiddies and Passed by the American Medical Association, so... that is so stupid that my brain stopped working. Why would the American Medical Association be involved in...

Heller goes to the other store.  On the way out he is ogled by young women students.  Gris thinks everyone is stupid for not figuring out that Heller is an alien.  The other store is run by an old man.  He gets the remaining books for Heller.  They don't teach Third Grade Arithmetic anymore, but "new math" involving "greater and lesser numbers without using any numbers this year.  It was orders of magnitude of numbers last year but they were still teaching them to count.  They stopped that."

Why does Heller need a third grade arithmetic book for a college course?  Why are his professors asking him to get books that the university-sponsored stores don't stock?

The nice old man chats with Heller about math.  Heller describes how some "primitive tribe on Flisten" showed him how to do arithmetic to count the spaceships flying around.  The nice old man was in the Navy and gets along with this Fleet man.  He finds an antique copy of Basic Arithmetic, Including Addition, Multiplication and Division With a Special Section on Commercial Arithmetic and Stage Acts, dated 1879.  He tells Heller to put it in a museum when he's done, since nobody remembers such lost arts these days.  Heller calls a cab to lug home his four hundred pounds of books.

If they don't teach basic math anymore, how does Izzy know to crunch numbers to make Heller super-rich?  Why didn't the nice old man ask where Flisten was? 

Heller goes back to his high-class whorehouse apartment.  He meets Vantagio, who admits that he threatened to cut off the school's student aid program if Heller wasn't admitted - the Gracious Palms uses some of the "Barnyard College" girls during peak periods, you see.  Vantagio makes sure Heller calls Babe to say how enrolled he is.  Heller doesn't mention how stupid his schedule is.  Babe is pleased, but makes Heller promise not to play hooky.  She has Vantagio check to see if Heller's fingers or feet are crossed.  After a heart-stopping moment of tension, Heller swears "that, unless I get rubbed out, or unless something happens that closes the university, I will complete college on time and get my diploma!"  Babe is pleased, Gris thinks Heller is going to blow up the school or something.  Heller also wants to talk to Bang-Bang Rimbombo.

"On time" for what?  What timetable is Heller operating under?  Why would it be unforgivable for him to take more than four years to finish school?  Why does he need to go to school in the first place?  And if it wasn't Vantagio or Babe's idea to make Heller a senior, why did the school president do that instead of have him enrolled as a normal student?

I don't know why anything is happening, but in fairness, I don't really understand what is happening either.  I guess one of the purposes of having Gris narrate Heller's actions instead of Heller is to keep the audience in the dark as to what the main character is thinking or intending to do.

Mission accomplished, Hubbard.

Back to Chapter Six 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Six - The Exciting World of Economics

This chapter's ten pages long?  Aw, Hubbard, you shouldn't have.

For two hours Gris watches Heller wander around campus, trying to plot out his impossible schedule in which he has two to three classes going on at the same time in different buildings, followed by an hour-long lull before the next barrage of education.  Our villain exults at our hero's distress, and laughs that this nightmare of classwork goes on for seven days a week.  I didn't know you could get classes on Sundays.  

Not content to laugh at the mighty combat engineer brought low by an obstructive bureaucrat, Gris proceeds to laugh at all the stupid students carrying on around him, unaware of the fact that he's from another planet.  Some of those stupid students remark on Heller's cleats and wonder if he's on the baseball team, and he gets a chorus of giggles by responding that "You can't get to first base" without them, dating advice that I'll have to keep in mind.

And then Epstein shows up, in a "shabby" suit (of course) and lugging a huge roll of paper.  He prefers to go by Izzy, so Heller decides to go by Jet.  It turns out that yes, Izzy did walk home sans clothing the other chapter, but hit the Salvation Army Good Will for some handouts.  He's worked all night on his plan for Heller's road to riches, but the only materials available to write it out were from the art building.  Hence the 1'x12' scroll of paper and the garish paints.  Izzy unrolls the diagram with the help of onlooking students and attempts to explain the symbols and lines on it.

To summarize four pages of econobabble: Izzy is using his financial sorcery to set up an array of mask corporations, arbitrage networks, multinationals, private accounts in the Bahamas, and so forth to not only ensure Heller's prosperity but also his anonymity.  His name won't appear anywhere on the paperwork.  Furthermore, the way things are set up, the corporations Heller has invested in can go bankrupt to their hearts' content, and Heller can just sell his shares and move on.  Manipulating currency alone will run a weekly profit, and Heller will be totally untouchable, immune to Mr. Bury's wrath.

And it wasn't until Heller came along that Izzy thought to do this?  He never put these skills towards his own benefit, never fled the country and the IRS to make billions in some European banking hub?

His presentation mostly finished, Izzy brings up what he needs Heller's input for - the logo of Multinational, the parent advisory company that will be managing all these stock market shenanigans and financial magic tricks.  It's an old round bomb with a lit fuse, because Izzy is a wacky pseudo-anarchist, remember?  Heller's a bit confused by all this, but approves the design for the "chemical powder bomb" all the same.

It turns out that not only has Izzy come up with this economic plan, but he's also put Heller's two hundred bucks from the other day to good use.  He was able to take it to a bank and prove that he's worth a five thousand dollar loan, which Izzy used to re-enroll in the university so he can get his doctor's.  He even has a new thesis title - "The Use of Corporations in Undermining Totally the Existing World Order."  It doesn't use the word "government," you see, so nobody objects to it.

His lengthy, tiring infodump completed, Izzy rolls up his economic blueprint to go home, over the objections of the onlooking students, who have alternately mistaken it for a banner announcing a new riot or some sort of psychedelic art project.  Heller hands over another ten thousand bucks for Izzy to get started with, and the economist vows to have things up and running by Tuesday, which would mean something if we knew what day it was now.

And Gris decides that despite this majestic construct of dummy corporations and offshore bank accounts, Izzy is a neurotic shyster who is going to take Heller's money and run.  So he doesn't need to do anything.  Nope, he can keep watching Heller, and not worry that his nemesis is about to become obscenely wealthy.  Everything will work out just fine.  No need to get off the damned couch.

I laughed.  Maybe that was the last Heller would ever see of him!

"Maybe."  So Gris isn't sure, but is still content to continue to watch rather than interfere.

Hubbard?  When your villains practically defeat themselves through their own apathy and stupidity, it kinda undermines your hero's accomplishments.  You don't need to be a charismatic, superhuman space commando to defeat the likes of Soltan Gris.  You just have to be slightly smarter than Soltan Gris, and that isn't difficult at all.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, February 17, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Five - The Apparatus Computer Has New Competition

"That evening, in the Gracious Palms lobby..."  So it was what, early afternoon when Heller did his diving rescue?  And Gris has just sat there, watching him shower off the sludge and change clothes and have lunch and fritter away his evening?  He couldn't think of anything else to do?  No plans to make, reports to scan?  Follow up on his attempts to get in touch with Raht and Terb?

The whole "Gris as voyeuristic narrator" angle is just a mess.  What little that is gained from his commentary - when Hubbard remembers that Gris is watching - doesn't make up for all the narrative problems it causes.  Gris is presumably a villain and an obstacle to Heller's success, but he's spent most of this book on the couch watching TV as a near-helpless bystander.

Anyway, Heller is reading the Evening Libel, har har, in which Mayor Don Hernandez O'Toole is complaining about the IRS' habit of blowing up buildings.  See, they know the revenooers were behind the day's building explosion based on the dynamite found on the government cars out front, "clear proof of intent to dynamite, according to New York Fire Commissioner Flame Jackson."  The official federal government line is that "IRS has a perfect right to do what it pleases."  Not the IRS, just IRS.  "There were no lives of any importance lost in the blast."

Well, color me confused.  When Gris sends an unpiloted flying car on a random course to crash into a hospital, and the Voltarian newspaper reports that some worthless child patients got killed, we're supposed to be appalled and outraged, right?  So are we supposed to react differently when Heller demolishes an apartment building in one of the most heavily-populated cities on the planet, all over a panicked misunderstanding?

Vantagio checks in and asks if Heller got registered, and our building-exploding hero explains that he may have some difficulty getting in, which prompts a disgruntled Vantagio hurry off to make some phone calls.  The evening ends with Heller going to his room where a number of giggling, eager girls are waiting.  The mysterious censoring interference immediately kicks in, leaving us with little choice but to assume that it's emanating from Heller's nethers.

Gris notes that Heller leaves his door wide open and concludes that he's pretty lax about security.  He's not just sitting on his ass and spying on his enemy, no, he's doing valuable research!

Because the chapter would only be two pages long otherwise, the narrative continues as Gris wakes up the next morning after oversleeping, just in time to watch Heller board the subway to his registration hearing.  He gets to the campus and marches to Miss Simmons' office, and Gris exults that there's no way she'll let him in with the grades on his transcript.  And because the universe exists to spite Gris, now you can be certain that Heller is going to college.

Sure enough, a brittly-smiling Miss Simmons tells "young Einstein" that despite all of her reservations and numerous rules and regulations, Heller has not only been accepted into the university's School of Engineering and Applied Science, but accepted as a senior, in orders signed by the university president himself.  No SAT required, the D average is fine, sure you can transfer from a military high school into a university's senior class.

"Really, I'm overwhel---"

"You'll be overwhelmed shortly," said Miss Simmons and her smile vanished.  "Either somebody has gone stark raving loony or the reduction of government subsidies and the lack of a post-war boom makes them slaver for your twenty-five hundred dollars and they have gone stark raving loony!  You and they are NOT going to get away with it.  I will not have my name on the form registering you and turning upon the world a nuclear scientist who is a complete imbecile.  Do I make myself clear, young Einstein?"

So... Miss Simmons is supposed to be a bad guy, right?  I mean, she hates Heller and is an obstacle to his wishes.  Yet so far I think she's the first person who's actually, you know, principled, perceptive, and not a complete dumbass.

Well, even though Heller's mob ties are getting him admitted, Miss Simmons isn't going down without a fight.  She puts him down for four subjects required for the "heavy engineering" courses he'll also be taking, is requiring him to get tutoring to make up for his D average, and since he supposedly comes from a military school, "God Junior" will be taking ROTC courses, too.  Best of all, it is completely impossible for these extra classes to fit in with a normal course load for nuclear physics, so in some situations Heller will be expected to attend three classes at the same time.  It's only a matter of time before a bunch of deans and professors flunk him out.

I nominate Miss Simmons for the book's hero.  She's stuck in a corrupt system, but she's fighting back as best she can, putting her career - and possibly even her life, since the mob is involved - on the line to oppose Heller's illegitimate influence, all completely by the book.

Miss Simmons explains that she does not like "INFLUENCE," and she's also a member of the Anti-Nuclear Protest Marchers, an old and battered movement regularly brutalized by the police.  So "the thought of letting a nuclear scientist as unqualified as you loose upon the world turns my blood to leukemia."

In Miss Simmons' defense, I think this is a case of the author not knowing what the hell he's talking about rather than a character not knowing what she's talking about.

Just as one final "screw you," Miss Simmons is putting Heller down for Nature Appreciation 101 and 104, a class she teaches in which students learn to admire all the things that nuclear weapons could blow up.  Oh, and she ups his tuition by fifteen hundred bucks to cover all his new classes.  And with that, she sends "Master of All He Surveys and Creator Himself" out of her office and on his way.

Gris considers sending Miss Simmons some anonymous gift, such as candy or a brass knuckle.  I'm similarly smitten, but also savvy enough to realize that because Miss Simmons is opposing Heller, she's pretty much doomed herself to humiliation and defeat. The next book or so is going to be Heller succeeding despite all the odds against him while Miss Simmons watches helplessly as her world crumbles around her.  I'll be impressed if she lives to the end of the series, honestly.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Four - Remorse But Not Responsibility

Let's start the chapter off with some comedy, shall we?

A pair of cops wandered up.  "What are you doing?"

"Fishing," said Heller.

"You sure you're not swimming?" said one cop.

"Just fishing," said Heller.

"Well, see that you don't swim," said the cop and he and his partner wandered away, idly swinging their nightsticks.

And so Heller gets back to wiping all the oil and slime off Epstein while stripping the economist of his sodden and grimy clothes.  There's no indication that Heller's put any of his own clothes back on yet.

As more sludge comes off Epstein, he's revealed to be "quite small, [with] a narrow face, a beaked nose, weak eyes and was shivering" from all the stress he's been through.  While Heller cleans him up with motherly care, Epstein explains how he discovered that one IRS agent was just making up regulations, prompting him to go to a legal library and make copies of the actual handbooks for the agency.  With this information, Epstein did his fellow students' tax returns and cost the local IRS two million dollars, particularly from the bonuses of agents McGuire, O'Brien and Malone.  Who are they, you ask?  The blokes Heller blew up two chapters ago.

Speaking of two chapters ago, Heller pulls out that subpoena and asks Epstein what it is.  The dropout explains that it lands you in court, where you plead the Fifth Amendment, go back to jail for a bit, and pop back in to plead it again.

"Then they really don't examine you and make you tell all you know?"

"No, it's just a method for keeping innocent people in jail."

So yes, Heller blew up a building and killed at least ten people to defend himself from a threat he didn't understand.

Heller was looking at the water.  "Oh, those poor fellows," he said.

"What poor fellows?" said Epstein.

"McGuire, Malone and O'Brien and seven other agents.  They're all dead.  I thought I was facing a Code break, you see."


"Yes, your apartment blew up.  Killed them all."

No, Heller.  You blew up the apartment.  You killed them all.  Because it never occurred to you to run for it when their backs were turned, or even to just skip the hearing, which was issued to a false identity in the first place. 

Well, Heller's remorse is short-lived - Epstein gushes that with those three agents dead (the other seven were probably jerks anyway), the case against him will fall apart since they never had any evidence to convict him.

"It means I am not being hunted! The thing is all over!"

"Good," said Heller. "Then you're free and clear!"

Yay!  Murder solved all our problems!  The government will never investigate a bombing that took out ten of its agents, everything's solved now!

Epstein bursts into tears at his sudden good fortune, convinced that something awful is about to happen to him to compensate.  Sure enough, Heller says he has a job for him.  Epstein asks his name... holy crap.  Someone wants to know a Hubbard hero's name before agreeing to do stuff for him!

Well, Heller says his name's Jet, and Gris is all like "code break!," but Heller explains that Jet is short for Jerome Terrance Wister, or J. T. Wister.  Jet, see?  He explains that all he needs Epstein to do is open an account at Short, Skidder and Long Associates so Heller can buy and sell stock.  Epstein asks if Heller's got the cash for it (he does) and if he has any enemies he should be worried about.  When Heller explains that Mr. Bury, personal attorney of the unstoppable Mr. Rockecenter, keeps starting crap with him, Epstein gets all quiet.  Though he agrees to help Heller, he explains that managing an account might take some time... and gets a little sidetracked talking about his rejected thesis.

"It was all about corporate feudalism--industrial anarchy, you know--how the corporations could and should run everything.  Its title was 'Is Government Necessary?'  But I think I could get them to accept my new title.  It's 'Anarchy Is Vital If We Ever Are Going to Establish Industrial Feudalism.' [...] About eighty percent of a corporation's resources are absorbed in trying to file government reports and escort inspectors around.  If they would listen, I could get the Gross National Product up eighty percent, just like that!"  He brooded a bit.  "Maybe I ought to change my thesis title to 'Corporations Would Find Revolution Cheaper Than Paying Taxes.'"

This may be the first time I've heard someone push feudalism as a positive thing.  I'm also wondering if Hubbard is using Epstein as a mouthpiece here, but can't be certain.  If he is, it's interesting that his focus is on corporations instead of, say, legitimate religious movements.

Finishing up, finishing up... Heller keeps trying to discuss Epstein's salary, but the guy stubbornly insists that he's not worth it, and is used to starving, and even though he's certain "Jet" is a wonderful guy his "efforts of philanthropy are being directed at a lost cause."  So Heller invokes the same bullcrap Indian law that Vantagio did a few chapters ago, claiming that since Heller saved Epstein's life, Epstein is now responsible for him, and therefore has to manage Heller's stock portfolio.

Epstein bursts into tears.  He eventually takes Heller's money and agrees to work for him, but trudges away with the doleful comment of "I am sure that, with my awful fate, you will live to regret the kind things you have done.  I am sorry."

Presumably he got dressed before he left.

So there you have it.  Heller has browbeaten a whiny, mournful, suicidal, moronic, capitalist-anarchist into working for him so he can buy stocks.  Oh, and he killed ten people for no good reason.  All of this, of course, is vital to his plans to save the planet from a hostile alien invasion, as well as from its own stupid, polluting inhabitants.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Three - Nerds to Rescue, Obstacles to Negotiate

More Heller running.  He bolts down towards the river, his view obstructed by overpasses and underpasses, but there's some highways between him and the water.  How ever will he get across without getting flattened by traffic?

Heller negotiated the obstacles.

And just like that, he's on the docks.

There's a few more undefined "obstacles" blocking his sight, but Heller does spot something crumpled on the end of a pier.  When he gets there he finds a jacket and some horn-rimmed spectacles, then notices a hat floating in the scummy, filthy, trash-covered Hudson (and before you ask, the tide coming in is counteracting the river's current, so it isn't flowing very fast at all).

So Heller shucks his clothes - good thing he used that dynamite, eh? - and dives into the polluted river.  "Down, down, down" he goes, peering through the murky gloom, until he hits the ooze of the river bottom.  He pops up for air, and goes "down, down, down" again, this time looks around a little longer at the bottom before going "up, up, up" for another breath.  While treading water Heller "jumps" his head up to get a better look around, and finally hears a voice call "I'm over here."

A "very small young man, covered with oil, mostly eyes" is clinging to a metal ring set in the concrete walls of the riverbank.  Heller swims over to ask who he is, and the would-be drowning victim confirms that yes, he's Israel Epstein.  And I have to ask, if he said his name was Iggy Fenton, would Heller just swim off and leave him there?  Shouldn't Heller rescue him first, then ask who he is?

Well, Epstein explains that he's too chicken to properly drown himself, and too weak to rescue himself, so he plans to just cling to his handhold and... well, he insists that he's not worth rescuing.  Heller is having none of it, though - he is going to buy some stocks by proxy, dammit!  He finds an iron ladder leading from the water to the top of the docks and climbs out, though for some reason Epstein is incapable of operating a ladder.

So Heller gets some fishing line - yes, he was carrying fishing line - and, his hands "moving rapidly in a strange repeating rhythmic pattern," somehow plaits the line into a rope.  He ties a loop in one end and asks Epstein to sit in it, but Epstein can't do this either.  So Heller jumps back in the river, finds a piece of driftwood, breaks it and puts it in the loop of fishing "rope," and shows Epstein how to sit in it before climbing back out.  "Shortly" Heller has hauled the whiny, wimpy economist out of the river.

And all the while Epstein is insisting that he isn't worth rescuing and Heller should really move on.  I have a sinking suspicion this guy's going to turn out to be the The Load.

Interestingly, despite hacking and coughing and sneezing after breathing the Jersey air on his way to New York, Heller shows no adverse effects after diving headfirst into the filth flowing down the Hudson.

Back to Chapter Two 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Two - Valentine's Day Massacre

Upon hearing that the probably-Jewish stock-savvy dropout is being targeted by the IRS, Heller's off like a "quarter horse," racing up Broadway as fast as he can run.  Gris takes the time to note that he's probably "only" doing twenty miles per hour, even though Earth's gravity makes everything weigh a sixth less than Heller's used to.  But despite watching Heller investigate the stock market and look up this Epstein guy specifically because he knows the markets, Gris is having trouble deducing Heller's motives - he thinks that Heller might be antagonistic towards this anarchist, or is trying to seek asylum with the American government.

Hubbard, we didn't really need any more evidence that Gris is an incompetent idiot.  You've made that quite clear, thanks.

Heller arrives at an apartment building that "looked like it had been an artillery target."  Gris explains that tax rates are high, so the tenants are destructive and wreck their own homes, and rates go up further if the owners try to renovate it only for the tenants to trash things all over again, so it's much more sensible to let things fall into ruin.  Having never lived in the inner city, I'll just take this moronic alien's word for it.

There's also a number of government cars (double) parked outside, so Heller dodges the debris and slips inside.  He finds a government agent standing guard... Gris, how can you tell?  License plates for the cars, probably, but how did you know that a guy standing in a hallway picking his teeth worked for the gub'ment?

Heller asks the obvious government agent about Epstein, to be told that the guy's run off to drown himself in the Hudson.  The IRS goon doesn't have a warrant for him yet, but his coworkers will be finished planting evidence in a minute.  When Heller turns to leave he finds two more men with guns on him (the IRS packs heat?), picking-teeth guy says "Sucker," and they lead him into Epstein's trashed apartment for an interrogation.

I'm immediately distracted when an agent demands that Heller call him "Sir" and Heller gets confused, asking if the guy's royalty or something.  Despite coming from a military background in a society with incredible similarities to Earth's, Heller is unfamiliar with using a respectful title for someone who isn't royalty?  I almost want to go through the first book to see if Heller ever called a non-royal "sir," but I don't think it'd be worth the effort.  In a story like this, what good is it to harp on one particular continuity error? 

The IRS guys assure Heller that they run the country, making them what, the third group secretly controlling America?  We've already got the FBI and the Rockecenter cabal.  Oh, and psychologists.  Anyway, the agents think Heller is a friend of Epstein, and want to know where the guy's books are - see, Epstein has some actual copies of IRS manuals, and if they were ever made public, the Service would be ruined!

They comply with the "Miranda Rule" and read Heller his rights, giving him a document so he can agree to testify, swear to, and/or sign whatever and however the IRS commands him.  Heller signs it as J. Edgar Hoover, and not only do the agents not question it, but they quickly fill out a subpoena ordering "Hoover" to show up for Epstein's trial.

The IRS goons wrap things up by planting some "Commie literature" and some heroin, and inform Heller that he'll be questioned thoroughly at his scheduled cross-examination.  Heller, who isn't eager for these Earthlings to learn everything about him, helpfully suggests that there might be some loose floorboards in the corner of the room.  While the agents are all busy, eyes away from their prisoner, Heller takes out his red-and-white candy - you remember, don't you, Heller's peppermint baking extravaganza? - and unwraps a piece, shoving the paper wrapper down the middle and sticking it under the floor.  The agents don't find anything and dismiss him, reminding Heller to show up at 0900.

Heller strolls out of the decrepit apartment, then goes to the agents' cars.  He gets out the four pieces of dynamite he'd strapped to his leg (!) and sticks them on the sedans, then proceeds to powerwalk away.

A gigantic flash whipped at the sky!

A roaring blast of sound struck a sledgehammer blow!

Hubbard, Gris isn't there, remember?  He's watching this on TV.  He can't be feeling the shockwave, no matter how loud a noise it makes on his speakers.
Heller looked back.  As the smoke cleared, I saw that the whole front of the abandoned apartment house was falling into the street in slow motion.  Pieces of the roof were still sailing into the air!  The government cars, showered with rubble, did not explode.  So he wasn't that good with explosives after all.

Pieces of apartment house were falling out of the sky.  Torrents of flame began to leap up.

Let's examine this.

Heller just blew up an "abandoned" apartment building, killing presumably at least ten people, plus any squatters or tenants he hadn't met on the way in because there was no way for him to tell if the building was totally abandoned or not.  He sent debris rocketing up into the air to rain down upon the surrounding terrain, and started a fire that could potentially consume entire city blocks.  And he set up car bombs to be completely certain that his victims were killed, car bombs on a public street in one of the most populous cities on the planet.

All this because ten idiots who worked for the "revenooers" were hoping "J. Edgar Hoover" would show up for questioning later, at a time that conflicted with Heller's scheduled university admission hearing.

As far as I'm concerned, Mission Earth no longer has a hero.  There's Gris, who is stupid and murderous, and then there's Heller, who is stupid and murderous in different ways but also the author's favorite.  And both of them will be with us for eight more books.

God dammit, Hubbard.

Gris finally is able to identify the "candy" he watched Heller make oh so long ago.

I knew what the stuff was now.  It was a binary concussion grenade.  It didn't operate until the wrapper, the needful element, was shoved down into the explosive.  It had activated on a forty-second dissolve.  The Apparatus never used them.  They were too risky to carry!

For once we're in agreement, Gris my boy.  Wrapping the explosive in its own detonator, so that any significant pressure could set it off?  Brilliant.  But speaking of brilliance, Gris... where the hell did Heller get the materials to make these minty-fresh explosives?!  Did you not search his luggage?  How can you expect to... what's the use.  The plot doesn't work if characters have basic reasoning skills, so stupidity reigns.

"What the hell was that?" said an old man near Heller.

"There were ten terrorists in the building," said Heller.

"Oh," said the old man. "Vandals again."

I don't understand.  Why would Heller think "terrorists" is an appropriate alibi for an explosion in New York City during the 80's?  Why would the old man interpret that as vandalism?  Or does Heller really think the IRS is a bunch of terrorists?

Don't worry, folks, as Heller runs to the waterside, he can hear fire engines racing to clean up his mess.  So there shouldn't be too many other people killed in the collateral damage, assuming the NYFD isn't as grossly incompetent as everyone else in this book.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, February 13, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter One - Unfashionable Nonconformity

I like this chapter.  It's short.

With his plans to learn how to smash atoms together cruelly thwarted (for now), Heller wanders around for a bit, which Gris interprets as meaning he's deep in thought, as if Gris could see Heller's furrowed brow and slight frown, rather than only what Heller's looking at.  Eventually Heller spots a bulletin board listing, among other things, instructions to see the Assistant Dean of Students if you want to hire graduate students.

So Heller unerringly finds his way to the office of Mr. Twaddle, the Assistant Dean in question.  He announces his intent to hire a graduate, specifically one knowledgeable in stocks and bonds (and old enough to, say, open an account at a stockbroker's).  But Twaddle informs him that all the Doctors of Business Association have already been "snapped up."  Heller presses him to look for "leftovers."

There is one such table scrap, who Heller spots on an upside-down list of many scratched-out names.  But Twaddle laughs and assures him that he wouldn't want this one.  Israel Epstein... I've got a bad feeling about this... well, he never graduated after trying to turn in a thesis titled "Is Government Necessary?"

"He has been flunked out on his doctorate for three consecutive years.  Wister, this young man is an activist!  A deviant.  A revolutionary of the most disturbing sort.   He simply will not conform.  He even boycotted the Young Communist League!  He's a roaring, ranting tiger!  A wild-eyed, howling anarchist!  Quit out of fashion."

Plus, he did other students' tax returns and cost the IRS a fortune.  Heller asks for the guy's address, which Twaddle provides, but warns that in an amazing coincidence, ten IRS agents were just by looking for him, so he won't be there for long.  So Heller rushes off, presumably about to do battle with the evil "revenooers." 

Did Hubbard ever actually go to college?  Wikipedia says he dropped out after two years at George Washington University (where he earned an F in the one nuclear physics course he took, which explains most of Battlefield Earth).  But apparently he never caught on to colleges' tendency to welcome radicals and free-thinkers, especially if they had beefs with the government.

On the other hand, he did attend during the early '30s.  Things have probably changed since then.  Which makes Hubbard's presentation of the world even more warped.  I mean, the guy spent the last decades of his life in hiding, wrapped in a cult of personality and churning out spiritual treatises blaming physical and mental maladies on malevolent alien spirits.  How the hell do you satirize contemporary society from such a viewpoint?  How do you poke fun at campus life if you're operating off of sixty-year-old memories of your four semesters of civil engineering?

I guess if Battlefield Earth was Hubbard getting nuclear physics wrong, Mission Earth is Hubbard getting everything else wrong.  

Back to Part Seventeen, Chapter Seven

Friday, February 10, 2012

Part Seventeen, Chapter Seven - Heller Experiences Some Actual Setbacks

Gris is now convinced that Heller will do whatever Vantagio will tell him, and as such doesn't pay much attention while Heller takes the subway.  Of course, he isn't sufficiently disinterested to, you know, get up and go do something else.  Maybe read a book, stretch his legs, start planning the raid to get Heller's platen.

So it takes a while for Gris to realize that Heller's going the wrong direction to be headed to the college.  He rewinds the tapes and confirms that yes, Heller had looked up a stockbroker in a phonebook and is on his way to Short, Skidder and Long Associates.  He's sent to see a Mr. Arbitrage about opening an account, and when Heller steps into the man's cubicle he "looked Heller up and down as though somebody had thrown a fish into the room, a fish that smelled bad."

An unenthusiastic Arbitrage checks Heller's identification, and quickly explains that not only does Heller lack credit references, but you have to be twenty-one to open an account in this or any firm.  And with three "good day!"s he shoos Heller out of his office.

So... is this why it's so important for Heller to look like a teenager?  Guess it makes sense.  I mean, if he could get into the stock market, Heller would obviously use his superior intellect and instinctive grasp of Earth market forces to become a multimillionaire overnight.  No, the only logical option on the part of the author is to hit the reader over the head with how youthful Heller looks and have him end up with a fake ID for an eighteen-year-old.  Otherwise this well-crafted, intricately-plotted narrative would just fall apart.

Heller washes down the unfamiliar taste of defeat with a hot dog and orange soda from a street vendor.  Then he wipes a finger against a building, is interested by the amount of junk on it, and proceeds to rub sheets of paper against various buildings as samples of how polluted the city is.  This crucial research concluded, Heller takes the subway across town without incident and makes it to Empire University.

This is the third time, I think, that Heller's used mass transit, and absolutely nothing happens when he does so.  He has no problems, no hilarious misunderstandings, no strange encounters.  Hubbard has nothing to say about Heller on the subway beyond what stations he passed through.  And this is an alien who thought there were draft animals under the hood of his car.  Remarkable.

The campus is swarming with students milling about aimlessly, but Heller makes his way through the crowd "Like someone who knew where he was going amongst a lot of people who didn't know where they were going."

The man who wrote this book is listed on Wikipedia with a net worth of over $600 million.

Faced with long lines in front of the registration counter, Heller uses the time-honored tactic of cheating.  He offers to deliver a stack of documents on behalf of an overworked aide, and once he does so he sits down in front of a Miss Simmons and gives her his paperwork.  But the woman isn't impressed when she sees that he hasn't bothered to fill it out, and concludes that he's illiterate.  Furthermore, Miss Simmons examines young Mr. "Wister's" grades and is even less impressed by all those D's, and is outright shocked when Heller announces his intention to major in Nuclear Science and Engineering.  Finally, Heller's missing some course prerequisites, and doesn't even have a transcript for his application.  She announces that the best she can do is take Heller's application under advisement, and orders him to come back the next morning, though she can't offer any hope. 

So a bad chapter for Heller, and a good chapter for Gris.  After watching Heller outright defy Vantagio orders... initially... Gris actually fantasizes about the Italian-Sicilian-Corsican-Napoleon warmly welcoming him inside Heller's room to search for that platen as an act of revenge.  And when Heller's application doesn't immediately go through, he drinks a toast to Mr. Bury and his "adroit" trap of an inferior identity.

Of course, Heller still has that chance tomorrow morning to talk his way into college, and not only is he the book's hero, but he also has the mob on his side.  So call it a hunch, but I think this is only a temporary setback.

A setback to what, exactly, I have no idea.  I can't pick out the book's villain, and I don't know what the hero is doing, or what the plot of this story is.  It's just a bunch of events happening one after the other, like a marathon of Looney Tunes shorts.  Except with more murder and prostitution.  And I'm not laughing or in any way entertained. 

Back to Part Seventeen, Chapter Six

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Part Seventeen, Chapter Six - Heller Procrastinates and Considers Buying Stocks

The first, lengthy paragraph of this chapter is dedicated to Heller's latest outfit, as Gris gets a "good" look at it from a mirror in Heller's peripheral vision.  The main thing is that the clothes, as always, make him look young, which is critically important.  Also, Heller is ruining the suit by wearing his baseball cap and metal cleats with it.

Our hero goes to the hotel safes to get some money, while our villain listens through the hero's ears to a speakerphone conversation coming from an office.  Gris really ought to ask for a refund on those bugs - sometimes they can hear conversations in the next room, and other times they can't make out a whisper from a few feet away.

Babe Corleone is chewing out Vantagio in a very mob boss-ish fashion for "standing in the way of this boy's career."  All this is because Vantagio told her that Heller didn't immediately register for Empire University the previous day because the "boy" overslept.  She orders him to get Heller's academic career in motion, and with that I've just summarized more than a page of this chapter in three sentences.

So Vantagio has a forced, friendly chat with Heller.  He asks if the girls are giving Heller any trouble, but Heller laughs that "it's fairly easy to handle women," especially if you threaten to kill them.  Heller has some questions for Vantagio, though - he has less money that he'd like and wants to get more, since he's "got to do something about the planet" and needs more funds to do so.  Heller asks about gambling and stocks, but a grumpy Vantagio explains that all the bookies and whatnot are crooked, and so are the brokers.

Instead, Vantagio pushes Heller towards getting that all-important diploma.  Heller's in no hurry, since he has a full week to register and wants more time to think about it, but Vantagio will not be denied and whips out a course catalogue, quickly deciding that Heller will go for a degree in Nuclear Engineering.  Then he gives Heller directions to the campus and tells him to get to the administration building pronto.

Heller tries to protest, but Vantagio hits him with "a mandatory, American Indian custom regarding saving a man's life."  Yes, the Italian explains that he is the Chewbacca to Heller's Han Solo, and as such is responsible for Heller's well-being.  Or something.  "You saved my life, so therefore you have to do absolutely everything I tell you!  And that's the way it is from here on out!"  A somewhat sheepish Heller is shown out the door, unaware that he can always change majors if he feels the need to.

Gris, meanwhile, thinks Vantagio is all mixed up, because he remembers a ancient Chinese custom in which a person who saves a man's life is forevermore responsible for him - which is why Apparatus agents in the country are under orders not to save lives, which is completely unnecessary since the Apparatus is too Evil! to do that anyway.

He also spots an opportunity with the mobster.  Suddenly, Vantagio is a itsy-bitsy, tiny little man, 5'2'' at the most.  And he's from Sicily, which is kinda close to Corsica.  And Napoleon was from Corsica.  Therefore, Vantagio has a Napoleon Complex and is threatened by Heller's height and success, something Gris can exploit!

It seems kinda redundant to decry psychology as a sham if Gris is incapable of using it correctly in the first place.  It's like accusing modern medicine of not working but having a character ignore the dosages and chug a whole bottle of pills at once.  It actually undermines your message, in fact, since readers will always wonder if someone competent in the "false" science would get better results out of it.

Random fact for this chapter: Vantagio's actual name might be, judging from the old course catalgoue he pulled out, Geovani Meretrici.  Now there's two Geovanis in this book.  Also, Vantagio might be a nickname that means "whiphand" in Italian, though since Hubbard's the one telling us this you may want to double-check.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Part Seventeen, Chapter Five - Heller Fixes a TV, Showers, and is Fitted For Clothing

Gris' disturbing obsession with watching Heller's adventures in real time is throwing off his sleep cycle and consuming his life.  He wakes up at three in the afternoon and immediately walks into his office to see what the man he hates so much is up to.

The Gracious Palms is in chaos, with the prostitutes mobbing a weeping and apologetic Vantagio, who is trying and failing to remain in control of the situation.  The girls are threatening to walk out or turn him in to the cops after hearing how one of their number was nearly killed by the hotel's staff for being too popular with clients.  Heller in particular is being spat on by betrayed and furious women... yeah, right.  Maybe in a rational universe, but not in this book.

No, what Gris sees when he turns on the HellerVision is a New York street from twenty stories up, causing the agent to go into nervous shock.  Wimp.  I'm terrible with heights too, but not so much that I can't watch TV.  Yes, Heller's up on the Gracious Palms' roof erecting a HANDY JIM-DANDY FULLY-AUTOMATIC INSTALL-IT-YOURSELF RADIO-CONTROLLED REMOTE TV ANTENNA WITH SIGNAL BOOSTER.  Gris takes some comfort in the fact that Heller's having signal problems too, but wonders what the girls were doing in his room if his TV wasn't working.  He's really curious about what Heller's getting up to with those hookers... and there was something else... ah, yes, he needs to find that platen too!

He figures that Heller's discovered the source of the interference and is trying to counteract it, so Gris continues to watch as Heller climbs around and runs lines with the help of a whore named Martha.  The old "code break!" angle pops up again when Gris spots Heller using a hand-held disintegrator drill and a toolkit with his full name and rank written on it in Voltarian, even though the Apparatus doesn't want to cart Heller off to face charges for fear of getting a more competent replacement.  Martha the whore does not ask about this strangely effective drill or notice the weird text on the toolkit, so Heller's secret identity remains secure.

After that, Heller gets undressed and takes a shower.  Gris watches without a trace of disgust or hesitation.  He matter-of-factly reports how Heller shucks his "baseball exercise suit" and steps into the massage shower.  Shortly afterward, Martha the whore, sans jumpsuit, slips in with him, holding some soap and offering to wash Heller's back, aaaaaaand interference strikes again.

The first bout of Convenient Censor Interference was silly.  The second was suspicious.  Now it's getting stupid, and it leaves the reader with little choice but to conclude that the interference really is coming from Heller's groin.

Gris is, of course, annoyed to no end.  Now he can't check out Heller's platen.  He's been curious about what it looks like ever since he's heard of it, and is desperate to see how Heller puts it to use.

The interference stops a half-hour later, revealing Heller slacking on his couch, watching TV.  Someone knocks on the door, he bids them enter, and in comes a team of tailors to take his measurements for those outfits Vantagio promised him.  And of course that damned collar is going to be incorporated into Heller's "college" outfit.

Gris doesn't think much of the styles being offered, except for one outfit that reminds him of something Humphrey Bogart would wear... argh... but then he realizes that there's something else going on here that's annoying him.

It wasn't the styles, it was the tailor.  He was a homo.  If there is anything I can't stand, it's a gay!

Yes, though Gris is absolutely fine with watching his hated foe strip down and take showers, and is disappointed at missing opportunities to see him spending quality time with women, he hates those gays.  And once again we get to play the award-winning game, Was It Intentional?  Is the "bi-curious Gris in denial" angle something Hubbard intended to create, or a delightful accident?  Are we supposed to agree with Gris' view or feel contempt for his bigotry?  And how can Gris be a bad guy for these offensive views given the author's disgusting gay caricatures from the previous book?

Also, how the hell did Gris know the guy was gay?  He didn't lisp or simper or anything.  Is Hubbard suggesting that gays can act normal until you've invited them into your room and it's too late?  Insidious!  

Gris' sudden hunch turns out to be correct when one haberdasher kneels down before Heller to take his measurements.

He seemed to be having trouble with his tape.  He kept stretching it.

"Oh," said the lead tailor, giggling, "you're really built!"

"What's the matter?" said Heller.  "Hips too narrow?"

"Oh, no, young sir, I wasn't talking about hips!"

On went the interference!

Well that's interesting.  Didn't know Heller swung that way.

It's at this point that Gris is handed anther communique from Raht and Terb, who inform him that they're staking out the shoreline in case Heller surfaces.  Gris finally snaps, bursts out of his room, encounters a singing canary in the garden, gets his shotgun, and blows the bird away, cage and all.  Having exorcised his inner demons in this manner, he sends a "brutal" message to the Apparatus' New York office, ordering that his incompetent henchmen be dragged in to be given less useless orders.  So sending secret transmissions to an office is perfectly fine, but you're not allowed to give portable receivers to your actual operatives.  You just hope they're near the office when you have orders to give them.

Once he's done with this, Gris goes back to his room to watch more HellerVision.  95% of this book is basically some jackass watching TV and telling us what he sees on it.  Which makes 95% of this blog some smartass telling you what a jackass said he watched on TV.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Part Seventeen, Chapter Four - Heller Reads Magazines and Threatens to Murder Someone

After taking a short break due to the static coming over the HellerVision, a "dreadful fascination" - ha! - brings Gris back to watch when it sounds like the interference is over.  He's just in time to see Heller leave the lobby's elevator, which throws him a bit.  It was only ten minutes ago that a hooker was about to demonstrate to Heller "how it's done in Harlem," but here he is fully dressed and headed out the door.

Let's see.  It would have taken him a few minutes to dress.  Say a minute to come down in the elevator . . .

Well, let's say he was awfully fast.

I must admit to being curious about what happened during the static.  Sure, Hubbard is messing with us, but I'm interested whether he thinks it's appropriate for his perfect superheroic Heller to have a little fling with some alien prostitutes despite his relationship with the Countess Krak.  My gut says no, that Heller is remaining faithful and that everything involving the scantily-clad women was just a hilarious misunderstanding.  Because really, if Gris thinks one thing is happening, you can bet that the opposite is going on.  Always remember that everything in this story exists to spite Gris.

But this begs the question of exactly what happened to get the women all cuddled up in bed around Heller while gossiping about their sex lives.  It's a very "post-sex" outcome, but since sex probably wasn't involved, what did they do to get there?

Despite earlier mention that business is slow and the girls are all man-starved, not to mention Gris noting that the UN isn't in session, the hotel lobby is nevertheless full of both Western businessmen and "Prosperous looking, debonair men about town from deserts and mountains and villages on stilts - the typical UN crowd."  And now Heller's here to sit down and look tough in case of trouble.  A hotel worker drops off a stack of magazines for Heller to flip through while he's on "duty," and oh goodness they're all racing periodicals about stock cars and hot rods and now I have a hunch how Hubbard's going to stretch this out over eight more books.

Once he's done speed-reading thanks to his superior Voltarian mind, Heller watches the crowded, full lobby, which is nevertheless "not much of a throng" because again, the UN isn't actually in session.  As Heller moves from racing rags to the Wall Street Journal, another lobby guard warns him to watch out for one diplomat from Maysabongo (it borders Bullcrapastan and Fictitioustania), who packs a kris up his sleeve.  Heller has no reaction besides yawning, which Gris puts down to stress thanks to his understanding of psychology.

Of human psychology.  Hmm.  Perhaps his erroneous conclusions are due to fundamental differences in the workings of human and Voltarian minds?  Naaaaaah, psychology's just a load of crap.

I'm sorry I'm getting distracted, but this is a very boring chapter.  Heller reads the real estate notices, then tries to make sense of the stock listings.  A turbaned man notices the "new face," prompting Vantagio to explain that Heller is the son of a Moslem who must live here while he goes to school.  Mr. Turban uses his understanding of the "Mohammedan" religion to announce that it is only proper for a young man to be raised in the harem.  He tries to great Heller in his native tongue but uses "Aliekoom sala'am" to do so, which I'm pretty sure is incorrect - since he's initiating the greeting he should use as-salāmu ʿalaykum, to which Heller would respond with wa `alaykum as-salām.  But I only know this because I took a semester of Arabic and can be bothered to look things up, which sets me apart from a hugely successful science-fiction author like Hubbard.

All that aside, Heller evades the issue of not speaking Arabic by politely informing Mr. Turban that he's forbidden to speak Arabic while in America.  Which would presumably make saying his prayers a little difficult, but Mr. Turban buys it and Heller's secret remains safe and I wish the Voltarian invasion fleet would hurry up already.

Eventually, something close to excitement happens.  That deputy delegate from Madeupia - Hubbard is fine with insulting the UN as a group, but not its individual member states - bursts into the room in a fury with his kris drawn, demanding to see a "Capitalist warmonger" named Stuffumo, who he is sure is in bed with his favorite hooker, Harlotta.

Folks, don't name your kid Harlotta.  Or Slutia, or Sleepsaroundina, or Promiscuna for that matter.

Crazy Kris Guy spots Stuffumo, and we get half a page of Hubbard Action as Heller effortlessly grabs the attacker's arm and puts his thumb in the right spot to make him drop the knife... the right spot was on the back of his hand.  Get your mind out of the gutter.  Upon taking the attacker's knife, Heller asks what room Harlotta is in, so that he can murder her.  You see, she's at the heart of a conflict that nearly led one man to kill another diplomat, so the only logical course of action is to cut her throat.

He's bluffing, of course, in a variation of the ol' Judgment of Solomon.  Societies with a history of "honor killings," however, consider this a perfectly valid course of action.

So Vengeful Knife-Wielding Man From a Made-Up Country and Stuffumo are both appalled and beg for Heller to reconsider murdering an innocent-ish bystander (while no one, including the whorehouse's actual staff, jump in to stop Heller or otherwise react to what he's suggesting).  The two diplomats settle things diplomatically, with a "conference."  The punchline is a treaty of "bilateral occupation" on alternating days, with the diplomats reluctantly spending time with their families on Sundays.  And I guess a more talented or inspired author could try to work this into an actual metaphor for how the Global South must prostitute itself to more developed nations in order to survive, or the exploitation and inequalities inherent in the United Nations, but nothing doing.

The incident resolved, one of the hotel staffers compliments Heller for his handling of the situation (in which he announced his intentions to murder someone).  He explains that the likes of vengeful Knife-Wielding Man From a Made-Up Country have diplomatic immunity, making them untouchable, while "law-abiding Americans like you and me" are more vulnerable.  And those are my quotes, not Hubbard's.  I don't think the mobster is being ironic.  Stupid, perhaps, but not ironic.

And the chapter ends with Heller going up to his room now that his "shift" is over, only to be spotted by another beautiful, eager woman with her robes untied, who declares despite all the evidence to the contrary that "business is too slack tonight," but she hears that Heller has "something beautifully new" to show her.  And of course before she can tell us what she plans to do with him there's another burst of static, presumably emanating from Heller's nether regions.

Gris ponders the significance of Heller's interest in a wilderness retreat and racecars.  I ponder why, if that's the only thing that happens in this chapter that will could have an affect on the plot, this section nevertheless went on for seven and a half pages.

Back to Chapter Three