Thursday, March 1, 2012

Part Nineteen, Chapter Five - A Group of Class Gathering in a Park

Good news is this is the second-to-last chapter of the book.  Bad news is I read ahead a bit, and the next chapter is gonna hurt.

Miss Simmons' nature class is meeting in front of the United Nations building, and there's already a crowd of students waiting - "mostly in jeans and rough clothing; some wore glasses, some did not; some were fat and some were thin."  But none are of healthy weight or wearing monocles.  I'm going to pointedly ignore Hubbard's description of Heller's clothes, but the important thing is that he's better-dressed than his fellow students, even though he's still wearing his baseball cap and cleats.  The girls, of course, take notice.

More class drifted up and now there were about thirty.

What can you say to a sentence like that?

Miss Simmons marches up, dressed for a hike... sort of.  She's got the boots and a "man's shooting hat" and a walking stick, but she's wearing a shirt and jacket of heavy tweed.  Upon spotting "Wister," she complains that she's heard how he used his "INFLUENCE" to get out of his tutoring requirements, but vows that "The war you so ferociously favor has just begun!"  Apparently you can't work in nuclear engineering without being pro-war.

You know how I used to like Miss Simmons?  Well, unfortunately that's going to end this chapter.  Earlier she was the only sane person on the planet, someone complaining how the Marty Stu was being handed everything on a silver platter.  But now her pettiness is going to overshadow that rare and precious common sense - no one can oppose Jettero Heller and remain a good person, after all.

Miss Simmons takes her class, "tomorrow's hope," on a tour of the United Nations, describing it as an institution founded to prevent war, but now a "dark grave of all man's greatest hopes" whose members plot to amass more wealth and power, and most importantly how to destroy the world through nuclear war.  I think the latter would seem to defeat the purpose of the former, but whatever.

While the professor explains how everything she's going to show the class that day is doomed to soon be destroyed by nuclear fire, Heller keeps getting distracted by the local flora and fauna in the park.  He notes that the grass would do better without chlorinated water, and that the trees are holding up pretty well despite the air pollution.  Then he spots a trio of seagulls stuck in a blob of oil and, retrieving a pair of gloves from his backpack, uses some Voltarian military solvent to clean the feathers of the survivor (why yes, he brought along cleaning gear for his nature appreciation class).  And then he gives the bird some water, and part of his sandwich.  He talks to the bird in Voltarian (even though it's from Earth, Gris mocks) to explain that it was dehydrated and needs to gather its strength before trying to fly.

So that's about two pages of the chapter right there: Jettero Heller, Friend to All Living Things.  Try not to remember the time he heaved a dog into a tree by its neck. Or those guys he killed with a baseball.  Or the building he blew up.  Or that he's living with and aiding a criminal syndicate.

Heller eventually catches up with his class, now inside the building and touring the empty chambers of the General Assembly.  Miss Simmons is still ranting about the UN's failings, or more specifically how the Security Council's five permanent members have veto power, letting them override the rest of the planet if they disagree about, say, nuclear disarmament.  Which is actually a major flaw in the United Nations' design (just ask a Syrian), and a pretty valid complaint.

This makes Miss Simmons a complicated, or maybe schizophrenic, character - on the one hand she's quite justifiably outraged that Heller is using his mob ties to get ahead in life, and that the UN is hardly democratic or benevolent.  On the other hand, she's been bullying one of her students in front of the rest of her class, and wants the UN to "rise up with clarion voices and cry 'DEATH TO THE CAPITALISTIC WARMONGERS!'"  There's a rational, sane character in there, buried by all the extras Hubbard added to make her more hateable, just in case we didn't properly despise her for being an obstacle to the book's hero.

So there's hypocrisy - when Heller asks what's preventing the UN from solving problems, Miss Simmons explains that it's the "Russian traitors who have sold out the revolution and asserted themselves the tyrants of the proletariat!" and praises him for the good question, before remembering that she hates "Wister" and chewing him out for disturbing the class.  When Heller asks another good question, she gives the credit to a nonexistent George.  You know, stuff that could get her fired in a sane world.

She wraps up the day's lesson with the warning that "All that you will see in our future Sundays of Nature Appreciation is doomed by nuclear war.  It will make it far more poignant for you, as you admire the beauties of nature, to realize, as you look at every blossom, every leaf, every delicate paw and every bit of soft, defenseless fur, to realize that it is about to be destroyed forever in the horror and holocaust of thermonuclear war!"

So does New York City have enough parks to stretch this class out for a full semester?  I was just wondering, there seems to be limited opportunities to experience nature in one of the world's largest cities.  Also, maybe appealing to the students' survival instinct - that they are doomed to die in a nuclear firestorm - might be more effective than marching around and looking at chipmunks.  But then again, I'm a sane person... who spends a lot of his free time reading and writing about L. Ron Hubbard novels...  Okay, saner person. 

Miss Simmons adds that if students want to do something about the sorry state of the world, she leads the Anti-Nuclear Protest Marchers despite the best efforts of the New York Tactical Police Force.  Then she dismisses her class, but steps aside to have a personal chat with Heller.  She assures the little nuclear terror that he'll be receiving an F for today's participation, and that she's confident that he'll continue to receive failing grades, which will make him flunk the course regardless of whatever "INFLUENCE" he can muster when it comes time for exams.  And, since somehow this one adviser-mandated course is required for him to graduate, there is no way for Heller to earn his diploma.  She walks off, satisfied, while Heller sits down on the lawn in front of the UN, looking at the ground, presumably deep in thought.

Maybe he's wondering how a degree in nuclear engineering hinges on some BS "nature appreciation" course.  Or maybe he's wondering why Miss Simmons thinks the "INFLUENCE" that got him this far will give up when faced with some bizarre apocalyptic communist.  Regardless of what's going on in Heller's head, Gris ends the chapter on a poetic note.

The fate of empires lay in the delicate and beautiful hands of a woman.  But this was not the first time in the age-long histories of planets.  I prayed to the Gods that her grip on fate would remain tenacious and strong.

I think my "Hubbard was dying while he wrote this" theory is gaining ground.  Seriously, that second sentence hurts my brain.  Yes, it's in English, and technically parses and is grammatically-correct and all that, but it's just so blargh.

Back to Chapter Four

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