Monday, April 30, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Eight - Hat > Nuke

I think a lot of Gris' problems can probably be traced back to his training.

My old Apparatus school professor in Wits Utilization used to say, "When the natives have you lowered in boiling oil and are sticking spears into you, it's time to accumulate data."  I heeded his advice.

Now if it were me, I might suggest accumulating data before things have degraded to cannibalism, perhaps so you can avoid getting eaten altogether.  And maybe you should focus on escaping from your imminent demise instead of gathering data about how hot the boiling oil is and what the speartips are made of.  But whatever, Gris is accumulating data now, by which I mean he's watching more HellerVision.

The book's absent hero is in his suite with Bang-Bang, Vantagio and Izzy, being tutored by his employer.  Vantagio describes the "democratic process" as when "politicians give the people things the politicians don't own in order to get elected," which differs from communism in that with the latter it's the commissars who grab everything for themselves.  I can only assume Hubbard's using "commissar" to refer to Soviet government officials rather than the political officers attached to the Soviet military, which are the commissars most people are familiar with these days.  That's because the Soviet Union renamed those bureaucratic People's Commissars to Ministers shortly after World War II, so once again Hubbard is being horribly dated.  And now you know.

Izzy interrupts Vantagio so they can get back to discussing the Master Plan, which makes Gris perk up despite the absence of nude models.  They get out an atlas, Vantagio suggests taking England first, and then that dratted interference cuts in right on cue.  And Gris is horrified by the implications.

His logic is as follows:
  1. Heller possibly, definitely, might know that Gris is acting against him
  2. Heller is studying Political Science
  3. Someone's talking about "taking England"
  4. Therefore, Heller is plotting to take over the world to use the combined military might of mankind to go after Gris!
Never mind that, y'know, Heller's now the head of an international corporation expanding into as many markets as possible.  Nope, he's clearly an aspiring world conqueror.

Faced with this deadly new threat, Gris quickly devices a plan and leaps into action!  Among the items he requisitioned were some of those dastardly hypnohelmets.  So Gris goes to the hospital, shaking Dr. Prahd out of his bed with Nurse Bildirjin, and orders him to help rummage through the massive inventory.  Turns out there's a whopping sixteen of those hypnohelmets, which horrifies Gris, but with Prahd doing the heavy lifting he manages to dig them all out, even if the doctor isn't sure what the devices are.

"But what are they?" Prahd pleaded as Karagoz stuffed the boxes into the wagon.

"The most deadly contrivance known to any sentient species," I said.  "The thermonuclear bomb is nothing compared to them.  And there you had them right in plain sight!"

He's a citizen of an advanced interstellar empire that uses black holes are power sources, and the most awesome weapon he can think of is a nuke.  That's kinda disappointing.  

Gris stuffs those deadly, deadly hats into the GrisCave and readies one for use, recording a "suggestion-command" for it.  He writes letters to Lombar Hisst and Captain Snelz... I just had to stop and consider how different this book would be if Gris were expected to send regular reports too.  "Dear Lombar, this week I sat on my arse trying to watch naked women on the television.  I guess Heller did stuff."  "Dear Lombar, good news!  That belly dancer I ordered just arrived!"  "Dear Lombar, my agents failed in their mission and are hospitalized, I have no idea what to do, and I haven't left my room in days."

Anyway, he packages those mind-control helmets to go with his letters and Heller's report back to Voltar via the Blixo.  And the chapter ends on a cliffhanger with Gris confidently preparing to implement his plan.

I was going to combine both the cunning skill of Earth psychology with the police techniques of the FBI.  How could I miss?

Guess we'll find out soon enough.

Back to Chapter Seven

Friday, April 27, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Seven - Has Soltan Gris Mentioned He's Heterosexual Today?

Speaking of characters from two books ago making a reappearance, Gris is reminded that he has another guest from Voltar waiting in the dungeons - "Too-Too" the lisping, effeminate homosexual stereotype.  The prisoner bursts into tears at the sight of Gris.

He was pretty rumpled.  "Six horrible weeks in a horrible spaceship with a horrible crew trying to get at me," he said.  "And now you!"  The tears streamed down his pretty face.

I slapped him.  I hate homos.  They make me sick at my stomach.  The very thought of a man making love to a man makes me turn green!

Watches Heller shower, watches Heller get dressed... anyway, Gris threatens Too-Too with not sending the postcards containing orders to spare his and "Oh Dear"'s mothers.  Too-Too agrees to cooperate, but asks to use the toilet first, and makes Gris turn his back because there's little privacy in a prison cell.  Just a little detail the author thought you should know. Gris gets some intelligence about what Too-Too learned while working with the elderly boy-chaser Lord Endow, but unfortunately it takes a few tries for him to learn what he wants.

"The minute he saw me, he said 'Oh, how darling!'  Then he said, 'Your trousers seem a little tight.  Come into my bathroom so I can...'"

"No, no, no!" I stormed at him.  I hate homos!  Men making love to each other curdles my blood!  "I want you to tell me the essentials!  The important information!"

He's constantly trying to eavesdrop on Heller having sex... well, Too-Too fills Gris in on all of ten days' worth of happenings on Voltar before he got stuffed on the Blito.  Lombar Hisst has gotten some of the confederacy's Grand Council hooked on methedrine and morphine (to help their rheumatism, of course), and he's passed a variant of the Harrison Act to protect the Apparatus' monopoly on the production and distribution of drugs.  

I let him up.  I was almost reaching for the postcards when a sudden suspicion took me.  He looked smug, the way homos will.  I hate homos.  You can't trust them.

We remind you that Soltan Gris is and always has been 100% STRAIGHT.

Gris makes as if to shred the postcards, making Too-Too admit that the day before he left he saw Bawtch chuckling about a forgery and Gris being executed for sure.  With horror, Gris realizes that the forgers from section 451 had talked!  ...Do you remember that?  I kinda do.  Something about... oh yeah, they forged the king's name on something promising to clear the Countess' criminal record?  Or something?  It was two bloody books ago.

So now Gris has to figure out how to save his hide from Bawtch (but not in that way because Gris is straight, dammit!).  The only copies of those incriminating documents are being held by the Countess Krak back on Voltar, but how to keep them safe?  Gris leaves the cell and a hysterical Too-Too behind as he struggles to come up with a plan.

Spoilers: it will involve a mind-control helmet, a decrepit old prostitute, and a child molester.

Back to Chapter Six

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Six - Mandatory Nicknaming

No gametes in this chapter, thank the wood gods.  Instead we get the return of  Jimmy "The Gutter' Tavilnasty, and you'd better believe that every single time his name appears it's as Jimmy "The Gutter."

Fate didn't have me on rations that day.  It was being very liberal.  It was even insisting on me taking all the bad luck I could hold and then some.

So is this a corny attempt at a dramatic narration, or satire of corny, overly-dramatic narration?

Gris gets shaken awake from his manly weeping by a housekeeper, who tells him that a "horrible-looking man" is out in the yard.  That man is Jimmy Tavilnasy, passing the time by playing a solo round of "mumbletypeg" - this is some Tom Sawyer crap, Hubbard.  You were old when you wrote this, and definitely living in your childhood.

Jimmy's got his list of potential customers for Gris' mobster hospital if Gris produces the man he's supposed to kill: Gunsalmo Silva, suspected of betraying "Holy Joe" Corleone, in case you've forgotten.  And I wouldn't blame you if you had.  Most of this book would probably be cut if any poor sods tried to adapt Mission Earth for the big screen.

Off Gris goes to hurriedly make some phone calls and arrange for the still-comatose Silva to be dumped in a hotel room.  After a bit of uncomfortable small talk with Jimmy to stall for time, Gris leads the hitman to the city, bribes his way onto a roof across the street from the hotel, and waits with Jimmy until sundown.  "Oh, boy!" says the grizzled murderer-for-hire when he sees his target through the window.  Jimmy readies his gun and stiletto and hands Gris a list of two hundred names, all mobsters who would appreciate a fresh start in terms of birth certificates and plastic surgery.  Gris hurries to a bar to order a coke and establish an alibi, taking care to shortchange the cashier so he'll remember the encounter.  And holy crap, that was actually clever.  A flicker of competence after chapter upon chapter of failing to act and not being able to assemble the clues passing before his eyes.

There's a trio of deafening gunshots, Gris gets out of town, and I'm pretty sure Silva isn't dead.  Gris doesn't hang around to confirm the kill, and since we're obviously meant to assume that Jimmy killed him, Silva's survival will be saved for a "shocking" plot twist in a couple of chapters, or maybe a book from now, who knows.  Plus, the reason he's called Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty is that he doesn't use guns.  Even though he brought a gun, and checked it before making his hit.

And although now would be a decent enough place to end the chapter, it instead continues for another four pages, even though we've gone through plenty of dinky four-page chapters before.  It's almost as though this book was haphazardly edited and badly planned.

Gris goes back to his reluctantly free clinic and meets a new bit character, Nurse Bildirjin, who lets him see "Doktor Muhammad Ataturk" - yes, Dr. Prahd's alias is the Turkish equivalent of Jesus Washington.  Gris complains about all the interns and nurses and dinner staff being hired and explains that the hospital is about making him some money... um, to cure diseases with, of course.  He tries to give Prahd the patient list but the doctor doesn't know how to use our puny Earth telecommunications equipment.  Gris gets mad and goes home, deciding to contact the potential patients himself, at least until he remembers the NSA might have tapped his lines.  So he comes up with instructions to hand to the New York Apparatus office so they can handle it, because they've done such a wonderful job so far.

The chapter ends with Faht Bey mentioning a disturbance in town, prompting Gris to explain he was "having a Coke, and I can prove it."  Engage the laugh track.

In summation: Gris runs errands while thousands of miles away the book's hero is no doubt advancing the actual plot.

Still, there might be potential here.  Consider a book that shows the intense planning and craft that a villain goes through in order to set up that climactic encounter at the end of Act Three.  A story told from the bad guy's point of view as he struggles to hire lackeys, find a contractor that does pit traps, buy sharks in bulk, get the right uniforms for his unholy army, and consult an interior decorator for his throne room.  Could be entertaining, could be a sly parody of narrative conventions and satirize a genre or two.

Y'know, all the things Mission Earth isn't.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Five - So Much for Medical Confidentiality

WARNING: Not only does this chapter contain frank discussion of sexual matters, but it contains misinformed discussion of sexual matters.

Doctor Prahd leads Gris into the hospital to discuss the reason why all the patients are being treated outside - that ridiculous stockpile of medical supplies takes up so much space that there's no room to see patients indoors.  On top of that, without a nice refrigerated facility to store his cultures and whatnot, Prahd won't be able to do any good cellology work.

Gris decides to show Prahd the hospital under the hospital, with the rooms decorated like prison cells so the mobster patients "feel at home."  The good doctor apparently has no problem with working on criminals, but still insists that the not-secret hospital be able to run.  Gris reluctantly calls up his contractors and arranges the next round of construction.

Then things get bad.

Prahd wants to chat about the latest news from Voltar, or more specifically the nymphomanic Widow Tayl's reproductive organs.  The good doctor "enlarged her ovaries, as a beginning.  She can now have three times as many orgasms as before and much more strongly."  And I'm not sure if this is "satire" about misinformed doctors, a biological difference between humans and Voltarians, or the author simply not having a clue, but I'm pretty sure that's not how women's bodies work.

 Of course, Prahd was just getting started.  Knowing that nymphomania is often caused by sterility (note: it is not), he fixed a blockage in the widow's innards.  And then things get worse.

Prahd was smiling happily, the true professional.  "Well, remember the first day I had the honor of meeting you?  You had intercourse with her in the house?  Well, I took some of your semen..."

And so Prahd crosses the line from "one of the few bearable characters in Mission Earth" to "creepy perv doctor" in but a single chapter.   Yes, he made sure to collect Gris'... ah, "deposit," and use it for some in vitro fertilization.  The Widow Tayl is now pregnant with Gris' child and just delighted with the whole situation.

Gris is not, though, and demands an explanation.  Prahd says how he wanted the line of the great Gyrant Slahb (the cellologist Gris disguised himself as to recruit Prahd) to continue, and of course was too professional to use his own genetic material, so he used Gris' without his permission.  Once Gris has him by the neck, the doctor also admits that after Gris' threats against the widow, he thought if she was pregnant with Gris' kid, she might be spared.

So the chapter ends with Gris reading a sappy card from his "cuddly Taylsy-Waylsy," returning to his room, and lying down on his bed for a good cry.  "It was too bad Prahd was officially dead.  Otherwise, I could have killed him on the spot."

I think that's one of those sentences Hubbard threw together because he thought it sounded dramatic without considering whether or not it made a lick of sense.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Four - As Opposed to a Malevolent Hospital

Crates of gold bars buy a good night's sleep for Gris, but he's awoken by a housekeeper early the next morning with a problem at that hospital of his.  Today's the grand opening of the World United Charities Mercy and Benevolent Hospital and there's already an unruly crowd gathering.  Gris is reluctant to get involved but has nobody else to do the work for him, and so throws on some clothes and heads out to meet the locals.

Let there be satire!

When we arrived at the hospital, there was a huge mob.  They were mostly mothers and children.  They were standing there docilely the way the way Turkish people do.  They are a very docile people, particularly just before they explode.  They are obedient to the will of Allah.  But Allah apparently wants holy wars at the first chance.

So did Hubbard ever get run out of Turkey?  Has he experienced this sort of thing firsthand?

A lot of the crowd is obviously diseased, but there's also a picket line of doctors - American-trained doctors, to be specific, because Hubbard's really cramming in the satire for this chapter - protesting this free clinic and any form of charity healthcare.  They express their discontent by rushing and beating Gris with their placards.  Gris tries to agree with them and shouts that of course the hospital won't be free, which of course ignites the rest of the crowd and earns the closest we've had to an actual action sequence in a long time.

A mud clod hit me in the face!

It knocked me off the pedestal!

The blood started to pour out of my nose!

Yes, this minor bit of violence gets the same kind of dramatic treatment as Heller ripping people to pieces with his deadly, deadly cleats.

But then a figure clad in white leaps forward, raises his arms, and begins to speak to the angry Turks.  It's none other than Prahd Bittlestiffender, who calms the crowd with an impassioned appeal to... well, it starts with "A United Turkey facing outward against her rapacious enemies..."  Turns out Turks are so devout in their worship of Kemal Ataturk that they'll stand in rapt attention to listen to one of his old speeches, even if it's totally unrelated to the situation at hand.

Gris ducks inside the hospital to treat his nosebleed instead of completing his escape, with the logic that even though he half expects the mob to kick down the door and tear him limb from limb, his "nose and precious blood came first."  Alas, this doesn't happen, and he emerges to see the formerly protesting doctors happily treating the huge crowd of patients.  Prahd shows up to continue treatment of Gris' grievous injury and explain - he's assured the crowd that the clinic is indeed free, and won the doctors over by hiring them on as part-time workers at a generous salary.  Prahd asks if his salary starts now, and Gris, who is angry that this fake charity is now a real charity, learns that it's not a good idea to withhold a doctor's pay until his hospital makes some "real money" when he's in the process of treating your nose.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, April 23, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Three - A One-Chapter Quest for Scotch

Gris is shaken out of his funk by a SHIP ARRIVAL warning; the Blixo, the Apparatus freighter Gris arranged to smuggle in all his creature comforts, is about to land.  And he promised Captain Bolz a drink!  ...He remembered a captain's drink order from weeks and weeks ago but has apparently forgotten the official purpose of Mission Earth and how it might relate to what Heller's up to?

So Gris sends his taxi driver out to get something alcoholic while he gets dressed, and no, I'm not going to speculate about why Gris isn't wearing any pants at eight in the evening.  The driver (Gris can remember a drink order but not his chauffeur's name?) scrounges up some "Haige and Haige" counterfeit Scotch whipped up by Arabs, and Gris rushes about the Blixo to greet its captain.  He makes sure to note Bolz' hairy chest when he enters the cabin while the captain is still getting dressed, and fortunately the "counterfeit" Scotch is a huge success.  Phew.  Take a minute to recover from the heart-pounding "find some booze" subplot.

The rest of the chapter is pretty much stuff and people being unloaded from the Blixo.  Gris sends the crates of alchemically-produced gold he made on Voltar back to his quarters, drooling over their estimated market value of three hundred thousand dollars, which I guess sounded more impressive in the 1980's.  Less pleasing is the revelation that all the gratuitous medical equipment he ordered (surely you remember that vital plot point from two books ago?) has been quadrupled by Lombar, with nary a kickback for Gris in sight.  There's so much of the stuff that there's concern over where to put it all, so Gris has to check to see if his "mob hospital" is finished (it is) and tells the workers to stick it all there.  This will have repercussions shortly.

As for the Blito's passengers, we have the stupidly-named "cellologist" Prahd Bittlestiffender, who is put in charge of the hospital, and "Too-Too" the flamboyant, ah, sleeper agent, who got to spend the voyage in protective custody because the crew kept going after him.  Gris has him stuck in a cell until he can find a use for him.  Finally, one Gunsalmo Silva spent the trip in "deepsleep" and gets put in the dungeons as well.  Then Gris is off to do some paperwork and write a stern letter to the pharmaceutical company for skimping on his cut before he can spend the rest of the evening drooling over his bullion.

All that stuff about figuring out Heller's nefarious plan?  Forget about it.  It's time to get distracted by Gris' hospital side project, feuding mobsters, and blackmail.  Chapter after chapter, Part after Part, of Gris-centric intrigue, while the mission he's supposed to be foiling progresses along without any interference.

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, April 20, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Two - The Groundbreaking Chapter the Oil Companies Don't Want You to Read!!

After helping put down a mutiny, Gris completely forgets about having his troops drill in case of attack and goes back to the old standby of watching HellerVision.  For over two weeks straight.  Gris has apparently decided that dealing with people is hard, so he'll just stay in his room and vicariously live the life of the book's hero, while unsuccessfully trying to piece together Heller's master plan.

Heller continues to take college courses via tape recorder, and spends both his days and nights studying, even when he's sitting in the Gracious Palms' lobby.  Gris notices that Heller's making friends among the UN diplomats, and sometimes the working girls will drop by and say cryptic things like "I got South Africa to say yes."  And this completely confuses Gris, who is mostly trying to get a good look at the nude model being painted in Heller's peripheral vision.

In a brief aside, Gris mentions his beloved Utanc still isn't speaking with him, but takes daily drives in that car Gris got her.  Also that little victim of child abuse has made a recovery, but neither of Utanc's little underage helpers leaves her bungalow.  So let's try to guess how many chapters this potential plot point will circle in a holding pattern until Hubbard tries to do something meaningful with it.

Heller also spends a few days taking a cab or subway to a random spot in New York, only for Bang-Bang to drive up moments later and report "nothing."  Gris assumes that they're unsuccessfully practicing how to tail someone, and doesn't put much more thought into it once Heller stops.  "Maybe he got tired of walking and riding.  Maybe he was just seeing New York.  Who could follow his insane actions?"

This is the veteran agent Lombar Hisst chose to handle Mission Earth, which will make or break the Apparatus' planned coup of the mighty Voltarian empire. 

Heller then visits that garage where he's getting the Cadillac supercharged.  The owner tries to get Heller to come with him to Mass, but Heller declines with a "How do you know my soul hasn't already been saved?"  If you're expecting some mention of Voltar Jesus or just what in the wood hells these aliens actually believe in, you're obviously unfamiliar with Mission Earth.

Instead Heller takes the old Caddy engine and puts it on a trailer to take to a rented garage.  It takes a page, but Heller gets the engine to run, pollution and all, then manages to remove the carburetor and, with the help of a "huge bag of tools and whatever," connect the engine to huge tanks of oxygen and hydrogen that he evidently picked up while shopping one afternoon.  He adjusts things until the engine is running but emitting nothing, and is so pleased he whistles while he walks home that night.

Or in other words, I think Heller just rigged a hydrogen fuel cell engine, but somehow skipped the "fuel cell" part.  It's really that simple.  All this time we were messing around with cathodes and anodes, but you can just take a gasoline-burning engine and plug oxygen and hydrogen tanks into it, and bam!  Clean energy.

And it goes without saying that Gris, who read Heller's mission report mentioning his plans to fix this backwards planet's energy problems, who knows that Mission Earth is all about cutting back on pollution, is utterly mystified by this turn of events.  "You can always count on Fleet people to play with machinery!"

Especially when that's what they were assigned to do.

Back to Chapter One 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Part Twenty-Three, Chapter One - Thinking Hurts

Last chapter, Gris decided he had to outsmart his nemesis Heller and figure out a way to permanently halt his plans.  This chapter, Gris has decided to go visit the Apparatus base's hangar, "although I should have known better," because the first step towards finishing Heller once and for all involves running a drill to prepare for Heller attacking them.

I never thought I'd say this, but I think it'd be more in Gris' interest to keep watching the HellerVision.

But things immediately go awry, because when Gris arrives in the hangar he learns that the Heller-hating crewmen of the Prince Caucalsia are near mutiny.  Not only did Gris go on about finally killing that nasty Royal officer only to abruptly change plans and spare him, but these Antimancos have also had their rights infringed upon, namely the right to go pirating.  Gris tries to be reasonable and remind Captain Stabb that those assassin pilots with the surprisingly sabotagable spaceships won't allow the tug to leave the planet, but Stabb has a better idea.

Turns out there's a crate in the base containing a disassembled "line-jumper," a stealthy atmospheric craft able to pick up an artillery piece, hop over enemy lines, and set it down to bomb the foe from the rear.  Which sounds completely redundant because any plane capable of doing that should be able to cut out the middleman and just drop bombs.  Anyway, Stabb theorizes that the Apparatus wanted to use it as a drug runner before discounting the idea because while the vehicle itself is undetectable, its cargo isn't.  But Stabb thinks you could use it to physically rob a bank, by which he means use its "traction beams" to take the bank building up a few thousand feet while you loot it, and drop the rest.  Oh, and he can whip up a "curtain" to cover the cargo so he could he use the thing to run guns to revolutionaries.  Or in other words this captain just figured out how to solve a problem that utterly stumped the Apparatus. 

Gris likes the idea of making money and giving potential mutineers something better to do than plan their uprising, and so gives the go-ahead for the refurbishing project.  Almost immediately he bumps into Faht Bey, who explains that they'll have to increase heroin production.  When Gris demands to know why, Faht reveals that someone on the base is stealing entire twenty-five-pound bags of white stuff.  Gris orders him to increase production and goes back to his room in a bad temper.  "All this thinking on top of all this grief was making my head ache."

Credit where it's due, this chapter does a good job of conveying how stupid Gris is.  His only contributions were okaying projects that his underlings came up with, and he is once again completely disinterested in a security breach on base.

On the other hand, it's hard to pick a chapter that doesn't emphasize how woefully incompetent Gris is, so maybe I'm giving this one too much credit.

Back to Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Eight - Suspicion, Lobsters, and Cobweb Machines

So I guess we're entering the "villain consumed by paranoia over the hero's progress" phase of the story.  Terl went bonkers about three tenths through Battlefield Earth, and we're in book three of the Mission Earth "dekalogy."  Wonder if this formula can be extended to other Hubbard books... but do I really want to read more to check?

Anyway, when they get back to Turkey, our friend Gris rushes back to watch HellerVision, or more specifically the recordings of what Heller did immediately after their meeting.  He doesn't rewind further to see if Heller made any special preparations beforehand, or even if he wrote that letter in the hours before Gris' arrival, which would give the Apparatus agent a golden opportunity to see where Heller's storing those all-important platens.  Gris isn't very smart, you may have noticed.

So he watches Heller take the crates that were unloaded from the old tug and lowers them into the old mine beneath the bootleggers' roadhouse.  He also takes some objects from them and sticks them in his backpack, but the bad lighting means Gris can't get a good look at them (even though the bugging equipment can see better than Heller can), so obviously Heller does indeed suspect something.  Then he carefully locks up the place and heads out, which of course indicates that he knows the Apparatus is after them, and then talks with those two Connecticut redneck sheriffs who were dozing in their speed trap.  After a pleasant chat Heller agrees to let them hunt deer on his property, which Gris recognizes as a clever ruse to get added security.

Heller also possesses a machine that can make cobwebs, and uses some to reinforce the illusion that the building is a dump.  It's only mentioned in a single sentence, but the idea that this guy specifically packed a device to create artificial cobwebs and then lugged it across the galaxy for his super-secret mission... and Gris is so disinterested in it, like he doesn't wonder where Heller came up with the thing or how he smuggled it to Earth.  First there was Magical Blackface Technology, and now a cobweb spray?  If Heller has some shark repellant on his utility belt I quit.

Having watched some of Heller's post-meeting activities, Gris notes that "Well, there was not much need to look any further.  But I did."  Take that, brain cells.  Thought you'd be safe even though I don't play full-contact sports or binge drink?  You weren't counting on L. Ron Hubbard, were you?!

There's not much else for Gris to watch - Heller apologizes for waking up the little old blind lady who threatens to shotgun trespassers, then goes to a restaurant for a late night snack of two lobsters.  Gris sagely nods his head and sits back in his chair, serious-faced.  "The conclusion, based on these collective actions of his, showed without a shadow of a doubt that Heller knew we had come there to kill him."  Since Heller will now be on his guard for further treachery, Gris will have to be extra careful when plotting against him in the future.  Super careful, even.  And, like, at least twice as cunning as he's being now.

And of course Gris hasn't the slightest idea where to start.

My hunch?  His plans will involve sitting on the couch watching Heller accomplish things, while ranting about how incompetent his henchmen are for failing to stop him.

Back to Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Seven - Read About a Guy Reading a Letter

Let's see how Gris gets foiled this time.

Gris rushes back onto the former Tug One to sneak a peek at Heller's mail.  One letter is a "mushy" love note to the Countess Krak, while the more important one informs the chief astrographer that he's in the "basic setup" phase of the mission, noting that a lot of our planet's problems both environmental and financial stem from our choice of fuel.  But he's optimistic, since from a technical standpoint the problem is pretty simple and he's figuring out the political and economic aspects.

Though there is a complicating factor Heller has noticed.

They have a thing called "psychology" which is ridiculous.  They even force schoolchildren to learn it.  You won't believe this, but they believe matter created life.

I guess the Gideons never dropped a Bible off at the Gracious Palms.  And I'm still wondering what the Voltarian alternative is.  If Heller's poo-pooing the thought of life spontaneously arising from primordial gelatin, what does he think caused it?  I don't know, the author won't tell me.  He'll throw around concepts like "Manco devils" or "wood nymphs," but the Voltar we've seen isn't demonstrably more religious than this unfortunate pastiche of America.

This somehow tends to make them immoral and without honor.

Is the author admitting that having atheism turn people into murderous rapists is a bit of a stretch?  Or is Heller too dense to come up with a theory explaining it?

I have to be careful dealing with them to keep my own honor clean.

Says the man who has joined an organized crime syndicate, rooms at an illegal whorehouse, assisted in the assassination of government employees, and blew up a building to kill some incompetent investigators.  But at least he doesn't push drugs!

The letter ends with another random reference to one of Heller's academy classmates, obviously an alternate way for Heller to prove his identity, and one that goes completely over the head of Soltan Gris.  Instead he whips out a copy of the previous letter and quickly overlays it with this one, attempting to find any places where the curiously-spaced words overlap.  There aren't any.  Gris notices a faint "2" written in the corner of the page, and realizes - dramatic sting - that Heller and Astrographer Roke are using a series of platens!

Which they evidently whipped up during the Mission Earth launch party between speeches and drinks without being noticed by anyone, especially a stoned Gris.

The important thing is, once again Gris is screwed.  He won't be able to puzzle out Heller's low-tech encryption, so when the good Cap'n Stabb asks if they can kill him now, he reluctantly orders them to spare Heller's life.  He says his good-byes to a still taciturn Heller and the tug departs.  Gris tries to be upbeat and focus on how he destroyed the rascally Box #5, stopping Heller's plans once and for all.  But then he gets paranoid about Heller's demeanor during the meeting, wondering if he might suspect something.

He had stood on the porch and he must have known with a night sight he would have been an easy target.  So he didn't know.

Or did his silence mean that he DID know?

Speeding back against the dawn to the base in Turkey, I vowed to carefully watch what he had done after we had left.  I HAD to know!!!

I miss Terl.  

On an unrelated note, we're now 1237 pages into Mission Earth, while Battlefield Earth's hardback copy was only 1083 pages long.  And we're not even halfway done with book three of ten.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, April 16, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Six - The Silent Treatment

Remember waaay back in The Invaders Plan, when Gris was actually going around doing secret agent-y things, and adopted a disguise or two and bluffed his way through situations to get what he wanted?  No?  Well, it doesn't matter, any such glimmers of competence are now things of the past.

Heller takes Gris into the roadhouse's kitchen, gets out some invoices, and starts writing a list of replacements for what was in the missing box.  He doesn't say a word the entire chapter, but Gris, who is nervous and eager to get at that letter, tries to hurry things along by supplying conversation.

"I never saw those boxes," I said.  "I didn't even know they were in the hold.  If you remember, I was not aboard the tug at that time."

He was consulting the invoice sheets again.

I said, "I do recall, though, a Fleet lorry driving away one day.  It had a box on it.  I asked the sentry at that time why they were removing the box.  He said he didn't know."

He didn't say anything.  He was making some sort of a calculation.  I wished he'd just give me that letter.

"I mailed the other letter on the first freighter out.  It went just two or three days after you gave it to me," I said.

He was trying to locate some item on an invoice.  I wished he would speak.

So we get five pages of an extremely jittery Gris blathering on and on about how he had nothing to do with the box's disappearance, and how he promises not to peek at that letter Heller hasn't handed over yet, while Heller continues to wordlessly write his list.  At one point Gris even spontaneously denies any involvement in the break-in at the Gracious Palms, which of course tips Heller off that not only was Gris involved, but he also has a way of monitoring him. 

Finally, Heller finishes his list of replacements for the dearly-departed Box #5, as well as two letters, one to Capt. Roke and the other to... Snelz?  The troop commander back on Spiteos?  Well, Gris says he'll get right on delivering that letter, no need for Heller to get up, seriously stay at that table.  He's giddy about being able to kill Heller soon, which shows optimism if not pattern recognition.  Next chapter we'll see how one-step-ahead-of-him Heller is.

Back to Chapter Five 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Five - Please Help Me Kill Lots of People, Amen

And so, "In the first pitch-black dark of October second," Captain Stabb takes Gris on the Prince Caucalsia to the rendezvous point with Heller, a warning from the assassin-pilots - that any attempt to leave the planet will be met with vaporization - still fresh in their minds.  Gris' mood is somber.

Unlike Heller, I am not a religious person.  I knew too much about psychology to really believe in anything but crude matter. 

I guess Hubbard believes that concepts of good come only in a religious context, and that things like morality or ethics cannot be arrived at from a secular viewpoint.

Also, I'm still tickled that he singles out the field of psychology as the great destroyer of religion and spirituality, as if attempting to figure out the subconscious inevitably leads to disbelief in the existence of God.  Wouldn't astronomy be dangerous too, with all those people staring upwards without finding a trace of Heaven?  Or biology, which can trace the lineage of species in ways that conflict with creation myths?   How about chemistry, with all that destruction and reformation of matter, powers that surely only the divines should possess? 

Poor Hubbard just can't wrap his head around the idea of someone being interested in the workings of the human mind while retaining a love of God or a belief in something greater than themselves.  Given the complete lack of nuance to the villains and heroes he creates, this isn't surprising.  There are god-fearing people and there are psychologists.  Heroes are pure Good, villains are pure Evil.  Black and white, with us or against us.  Binary thinking.

...Wait, what about the Mafia?  The big difference between Corleone's mob and her rivals is that she doesn't push drugs.  So is this some uncharacteristic ambiguity on Hubbard's part, or does he really think the difference between good and evil comes down to whether or not you're selling blow to go with your stable of hookers?


But in my childhood I had been exposed to it by the more decent people around me, and now and then I would suffer a relapse and feel some need to pray.  I did so tonight.

Wow.  That was almost... humanizing.  Or it would be if Hubbard would bother to tell us what Gris actually prayed for, or who he was praying to (or anything about the Voltarian religion for that matter), or why seek divine guidance in murdering a rival.  Gris pretty much knows he's evil, right?  So why would he think that Space God would be inclined to grant his request?  Or was he making a plea to a less benign power?  Did he sacrifice a goat in hopes that Space Baphomet would grant him a boon?

Gris once again reminds us of the stakes, that if Heller isn't stopped his unexplained plans could threaten Lombar Hisst's takeover of the whole Confederacy, with only those platen-coded messages standing between Heller and his execution.  Then he dozes off because the captain is once again doing that thing where he flies two hundred miles above the ground at the speed of night instead of waiting until night falls at their destination and then zipping over to it, so the trip takes a while.  When he wakes up the captain is edgy - sure, the tug has all those stealth systems, and none of America's defense installations or radar stations or anything have detected them.  But you see, there's a parked police car containing two deputies hidden just off a road!  It's a trap!

Gris explains the concept of speed traps and the tug lands over the captain's protests.  Heller is waiting at the landing zone and quickly gets the crew unloading things, but soon discovers that Box #5 is missing.  The Apparatus guys feign innocence, and Heller does another check before beckoning Gris into the roadhouse's kitchen with him.  Gris checks his weapons before following, not taking his hand off his "blaststick" the entire time.

That was not an attempt at innuendo.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Four - Mission-Critical Crockery

The good Cap'n Stabb admiringly congratulates Gris for handling the "enraged assassins about to kill us" situation, and the two set about planning for the future.  Gris consults some Fleet maps and shows the captain the rendezvous point, then they talk about how they're going to lull Heller into a false sense of security before backstabbing him, thwarting his plans in the short term before putting an end to him permanently. 

The key to this is Box #5 in the Prince Caucalsia's cargo hold.  Gris isn't even sure what's in it, but the crate has to go.  Since the hold doors are all locked tight (because the Apparatus let Heller pick the ship and set it up so only he has full access to it), the crew gets at it through a maintenance hatch and unpacks it piece by piece, revealing a bunch of pans that Gris pays little attention to and nobody can identify the purpose of.  But rest assured they're very important pans, and their loss will be crippling blow to Heller's campaign of goodness!  Take that hero!

With that the crew expertly cleans up to erase any evidence of their actions, so they can claim that the crate was never packed.  Everyone is happy because they're getting ready to kill a filthy Royal officer, and Gris is celebrating a minor but all-too-rare victory.  And then he goes to watch HellerVision because why the hell not.

Would you like some more scathing satire of the intelligence community?  Heller's reading some ROTC homework, The Handling of a Trained Spy, while eating his second breakfast sundae.  "The Officer's Dilemma" concerns how handlers must learn to steer their underlings by their thirsts for vengeance or wealth, since as you are no doubt well aware, no intelligence operative is motivated by love of country or a righteous cause.  Another chapter, "Love, the Case Officer's Worst Enemy!", concerns... well, you can figure it out.

This is all routine for Gris, as Voltarian society is by an amazing coincidence largely identical to our own, though he is confused by Heller's behavior.  Everyone knows that love makes a spy lousy, as they just want to rush through the job and go home.  But gosh darn it, Heller isn't being sloppy or anything, even though he's got the Countess Krak to fly home to.  What a weirdo.

So Gris just mentally shrugs and continues on with the delusion that he's about to take care of Heller once and for all.  Yes, by stalling him during this delivery, Gris will quickly read the second later and puzzle out what the platen encryption is, allowing him to murder Heller and send forged reports.  Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Feel free to start brainstorming all the things that could go wrong.  In Chapter Seven, you'll get to see if you guessed right.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Three - Mystery Solved, Back to Work

Hey, this chapter doesn't open with Gris making a mopey observation about his bad luck.  Instead he's all upbeat about an opportunity to get that Heller once and for all (let the dope dream).  But then he enters the Apparatus hangar to prepare and finds a bit of a scene.

The four "assassin" pilots, the ones making sure no one gets any ideas about leaving, have lined up all the technicians and are threatening to start a-executin' until someone fesses up about something.  A panicking crewman asks Gris to help them, "by all the sacred Devils!"

That's... well, those were certainly two words I wasn't expecting to see in the same phrase.  Normally when you call something a "devil" you're defining them as opposing the values you hold in high regard, or in other words that which you hold "sacred."  So are the Voltarians like the Psychlos in that they know they're irredeemably evil creatures fit only to be exterminated by the heroically genocidal protagonist?  Do they thank the "evil gods" too?  

Well, the very scary assassin pilots are in a tizzy because someone's done sabotaged them thar spaceships so that they'd blow up if they tried to fire their weapons.  None of the technicians are admitting to doing it, and things are a about to get ugly when Gris is reminded that the only possible culprit who isn't around is none other than Jettero Heller.  So he blames everything on Heller, makes up a story about how he saw him around the assassin ships when no one else was looking, and everyone in the base unites in hatred against that "(bleeped) Royal officer."  The assassins are satisfied, the day is saved, and the mission can proceed as planned.

But I can't help but feel like we're forgetting something... ah, right.  So who sabotaged the ships?   Someone breached base security and cross-wired a vessel's weapon systems to destroy it!  Who knows what else they could've done!  The tug might not be safe!  Hell, no one's safe!  Who's the saboteur?  What's his next target?

In a sane, rational story, this might lead to an outbreak of paranoia, a witch hunt, a good detective sequence.  I mean, Gris is already being left notes by a mysterious stalker who's going to kill him at the first sign of failure.  He has damn good reason to be freaking out right now.

But he doesn't.  The chapter ends, and next chapter starts with Captain Stabb patting Gris on the back for handling that situation, and then they go on to plan their trip to drop off Heller's crap.  The chapter after that, they drop off the crap.  I've skimmed the next fifty pages or so and there's nothing about this saboteur.

Having told a lie about how Heller was the culprit, Gris decides that he probably was, and stops thinking about it.  And though this sort of shenanigans is right up Heller's alley, there's no way for Gris to be certain about this.  This is a terrible justification for casually disregarding a life-threatening development. 

What's the point of introducing a mystery if no one in the story reacts to it

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Two - Telecommunications Anxiety

Gris starts this chapter with "Lightning is said never to strike twice in the same place," and is it me or is that a really awkward way to phrase things?  "But there apparently is no law about it striking twice in the same time period."  Which is pretty vague, since last chapter took place sometime after midnight, while this one starts at four in the morning with Gris being awakened by a messenger.  Lightning can probably strike twice in the same region in the same minute during an intense storm, right?  So several hours later shouldn't be a big deal.

Anyway, Gris has a phone call, requiring him to hustle out of bed and to a nearby motel.  We get a half page of Gris on the line, going through a series of operators asking if this is indeed "Sultan Bey" with Gris giving the same "Yes, yes!" response each time.  Eventually he's connected to his caller, who is none other than Jettero Heller, affecting a terrible accent.

"We'uns up in Ha'lum is having us a wedding.  De date is 2 October r'aht aftuh sunset.  We'ums will leave de po'ch light on."

"My Gods," I said.  How could I shut him off?

Gris' reaction is understandable, though he's freaking out more over the possibility of the NSA monitoring the call with their satellites than Heller's horrifying accent... wait, how'd Heller get Gris' number?  Why did that number go to the Dreg Hotel in Afyon rather than Gris' villa or the Apparatus office?  Why would the Apparatus use communication methods that could be intercepted by the backwards natives? 

"De pahty goin' be very fancy so don' bring dat ol' Miss Blueflash.  She trash.  You'uns bring dat Prince Caucalsia foh shuah.  We goin' empty he stomach."

"Good Gods!" I said.

Yeah, anyone eavesdropping isn't going to perk up at a completely incongruous name like Prince Caucalsia getting dropped in this insipid conversation.

"Now we is countin' on you coming 'cause we got to write de cap'n you'uns doin' jus' fine.  Now de address he be griddle . . ."

"Good-bye!" I screamed.  "Good-bye!  I be there.  Good-bye!"

I hung up hysterically.

So yeah, Gris the highly-trained secret agent completely freaks out over this phone call.  So much so that he actually forgets most of the conversation, forcing him to go over his spy tapes to catch it from Heller's side.  After watching Heller eat three hamburgers at the Howard Johnson he called from and mulling things over a bit, Gris deduces that "Miss Blueflash" refers to that magical stunlight the Apparatus uses to secure landing zones, the "porch light" is a radio beacon (that of course Gris hadn't known Heller packed because nobody screened Heller's luggage), and the "griddle" reference would have been the grid coordinates of the landing zone at the roadhouse Heller just bought.

And there's our... uh, conflict? for this Part.  Heller wants to unload some crap from his spaceship, and also send a letter to Mr. Astronomer Alien.  Gris realizes this is an opportunity not to steal that platen, but to render it irrelevant - if he can get a look at the second letter and compare it to the first, he might be able to figure out where the cipher fits without physically possessing the platen.  So our villain gets to end the chapter hopeful that at last he'll have the hero right where he wants him, at least until he learns just how many steps Heller is ahead of him in a few pages.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, April 9, 2012

Part Twenty-Two, Chapter One - The Battle-Whores of the Gracious Palms

Gris opens this Part with a somber observation: "Fate is seldom kind.  And when it starts shovelling out bad news, it seldom knows when to stop."  As if things had actually been going Gris' way in recent memory.  Also, I guess the lorry-loving Britishness of our narrator has extended to certain spellings.

Anyway, Gris watches Heller do some landscaping at his new property (with explosives) and post hee-larious warning signs like "Property Trespassers Will Be Deported to Elsewhere with Their Heads Blown Off" and "Not Responsible for Damage Done by Mine Fields."  Then he uses the Magic Light to un-blackface himself and have a chat with the nice old blind lady who couldn't tell what color his skin was in the first place.  Gris gets bored and goes to bed.

...Only to be awakened by a messenger with an Agent Update from Raht and Terb, the two seasoned operatives he sent to break into Heller's room at the Gracious Palms.  And that's the majority of this chapter, seven pages of a transcribed letter.  It opens with "We have good news for you.  We are in the hospital."  So you could probably just skip to the next chapter and assume that everything's gone wrong for them and Gris.  And you'd be right.

The short version: the morons got their forged papers to pass as diplomats and made appointments at the Palms, then broke into Heller's unlocked room.  They couldn't find anything, and they evidently forgot to lock the door behind them because they were soon accosted by two prostitutes - a "high yellow whore" and a "tan whore" who each get a paragraph-long description of their height, nail polish color, and state of undress.  And then the two trained Apparatus agents, each a slimy veteran of infiltration and back-alley murder, got their asses kicked by said prostitutes.  Karate chops to break arms, roundhouse kicks to break jaws, deft disarmaments and improvised weapons from the soda bar, the works.  Then they got to talk to Vantagio, and by "talk" I mean "get beaten and interrogated, wrapped in plastic, tied to concrete, and tossed in the river."

Thanks to a handy shoe-knife the agents were able to extract themselves and float downriver until they found a place to get out, which was conveniently next to a hospital.  As soon as their hands healed (from getting shredded by the fishhooks in Heller's luggage, which they evidently rummaged through without looking) they sent the message, explaining why they won't be ambulatory for another month.

On the bright side, they didn't reveal that they were aliens, and they did find the mysterious source of the Censor Interference - the room next to Heller's is set up like a faux beach or jungle, with palm fronds and a carbon arc light to provide faux-sunlight, all to "simulate the earliest conditions of coital contact by diplomats from jungle or sea countries."  Y'hear that, folks from Oceania, South America, Africa or Southest Asia?  You like to do it on the ground, outside, like animals, you nasty thangs.

Note that while the agents identified the source of the interference, they did not disable it or anything.  And they didn't plant any bugs because Gris didn't give them any.  So their mission was pretty much a failure and a waste of time, but still not enough to pry Gris from his couch.

In conclusion, nothing happened in this chapter but a half-assed flashback, nothing changed, nothing was learned that will have any relevance for the foreseeable future, and no actions will result from the events that transpired.  And once again we are reminded just how utterly powerless the villains are in the face of the hero's progress, thereby robbing the story of any dramatic tension.

295 pages to go.

Back to Part Twenty-One, Chapter Six

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Part Twenty-One, Chapter Six - It's Not Illegal If A Consul Does It

Now one of the more baffling characteristics of this series has been its self-censorship - despite the wanton murders and prostitution and faces being torn off by baseball cleats and sex slaves, naughty language is a no-no.  "Hell," or more commonly "Hells," is about as severe as it gets, with everything else being rendered as (Bleepard) or (Bleeptch) or God (Bleeped) or just (Bleep).

The word "nigger" appears a good five or six times in this chapter, uncensored. 

Heller locks up the posh stone bootlegger fortress/pleasure palace and hits the road again, pulling into a diner to phone Izzy to work out the details on the property.  He has lunch.  It consists of five hamburgers, five Seven Ups, and a chocolate sundae.  To Gris' surprise, Heller's blackface causes him no problems with the waitress.

On the road again, Heller ignores Izzy's advice to stay out of trouble ("Connecticut is way out in the wilds.  They may still have Indians there.") and quite deliberately does twice the speed limit as he passes the sheriffs' speed trap from last chapter (Chekhov's gun!).  We get a full page of Gris narrating another Hubbard Action Sequence as the cops chase the cab, but it doesn't matter so I'll skip it.  Instead Heller soon pulls over, gets out, and assumes the frisking position, something so out of procedure that he's lucky he isn't shot.

While one n-bomb-dropping Connecticut redneck sheriff marvels at Blackface Heller's jewel-encrusted golden gun, the other checks out a folder full of documents left on the cab's seat, searching for a gun license but finding something more complicated.  After Heller, in his high-pitched African Voice, suggests "Mebbe so you better call in on beautiful radio, checkee license plate," the other officer is horrified to learn that they're dealing with Rangtango Blowah of the Republic of Maysabongo, a man with "diplomatic imboomity" allowing him to commit murder and get away with it.

They keep calling him "nigger" even after learning this.

"Rangtango"... Hubbard just didn't care, did he?  Well, "Rangtango" drops another bombshell, that thanks to some important phone calls, the sheriffs are now standing on the property of Maysabongo, a land that he didn't make up.  But, Blackface Heller goes on, that whole speeding thing was in fact a test to see if the local constables were up to the task of policing the property of that nonfictional country.  He gives each redneck a "tip" and promises more to come each month, so long as they do a good job of keeping undesirables away.  He even swears them in as honorary part-time deputies with the legitimate, left-handed Maysabongo oath.

They keep calling him "nigger" even after doing this.

Blackface Heller wraps things up by describing a certain white fellow, an engineer, who will be coming around to inspect the property later.  With one last round of not-bribes he's off, and Gris grimly notes that now his foe has got the local law enforcement in his pocket.  "How perfectly awful of Heller!  We couldn't get our noses into either place to sabotage things!"  Yes, those poor alien intelligence operatives with radar-proof camouflage and magical light rays that instantly knock people out have no way of overcoming two moronic traffic cops.

That wasn't sarcasm.

Back to Part Twenty-One, Chapter Five

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Part Twenty-One, Chapter Five - The Mystery of Goldmine Creek

Heller continues to drive through the hills of Connecticut, which Gris describes as "picturesque like you see in paintings."  He carefully obeys the traffic laws while passing a sheriff's speed trap, then abruptly pulls off the road as he follows his compass to his destination.

And this is weird - Heller's following an old road, but he has to go carefully, navigating around 75-year-old trees and pushing through dense underbrush.  Yet in that other Hubbard novel that I read, the book's hero was able to zip along thousand-year-old highways in his space car without any difficulty.  So did Hubbard actually learn from his mistakes?  Did someone complain about the unrealistic lack of road decay in the earlier novel, causing him to take pains to correct it for this one?  And of all the things wrong with Battlefield Earth, why'd he only pick up on the roads?

Anyway, there's a dense cluster of trees sheltering a long-abandoned stone roadhouse, with reinforced doors and bullet-proof glass.  Gris calls it a "FORT!" but if so it's a classy fortress, with verandas and dance floors and bars.  There's even a signed photograph of Jimmy Walker, as well as a picture of "Holy Joe" Corleone during his youthful Prohibition days.  Heller takes pictures of the pictures rather than taking the pictures themselves.  Presumably he's going to earn Mafia rep by bringing Babe an image of her dearly departed husband, and knowing this book she probably won't ask why the hell Heller didn't cut out the middleman.

What else is there to say about this chapter?  Heller finds a staircase behind the bar leading into a cave with the rotted remains of stairs and supports.  There's a chiseled claim from Issiah Slocum dating back to 1689.  Gris tries to take an interest in all of it: "The bootleggers had been using the mine to hide their hooch!  And that's what had happened to the 'lost mine' of Goldmine Creek!"  So I guess we were supposed to be wrapped up in the mystery?  A mystery that popped up last chapter and is now suddenly and anticlimactically resolved.

It's really hard to feel like anything that happens in this book matters.  Since we have no idea what the hero's plan is, there's no weight to his decisions.  And since the villains are just so damned incompetent, there's no reason to think that what they do can stop him.  So we get action without meaning or consequence.  Heller does this and this and oh wow he's wealthy and popular and isn't he wonderful.  Gris does this and sits on his butt for a whole book and wouldn't you know it but Heller's still going strong.

And there's seven more books to this series.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Part Twenty-One, Chapter Four - Space Age Blackface Technology

So after the bombshell revelation that Heller has some sort of Master Plan unfolding, Gris... spends a night failing to get any sleep.  And then "chanced" to look at the HellerVision the next morning to introduce this chapter.  Rather than obsessively watching his enemy's every move for some clue as to what he's up to.  Well, I guess that's better than stressing out over things.

Heller is driving out of New York, even though legally he isn't eighteen yet.  So maybe that's the purpose of Heller's age being misconstrued, to show that he's a rebel that doesn't play by the rules?  He's brave enough to risk being pulled over by a traffic cop?

The narrative is absolutely thrilling, by the way.

Now he was paying a toll.  He left the bridge behind him.  Now he was ignoring Bronx signs.  He was spotting U.S. 278.  Throg's Neck?  Was he going to Throg's Neck?  No.  Now he was on Hutchinson River Parkway.  White Plains?  Was he going to White Plains?  No, he passed that turnoff.  Boston?  Ah, New Brunswick, Canada!  He must be running away to flee the country.

I guess Hubbard was expecting readers to pop out an atlas, carefully reread the chapter and follow Heller's course with their finger, and then nod slowly to themselves, awed that one of the greatest authors of their generation plotted out a character's commute in such painstaking detail.

Gris rushes off to contact Raht and Terb, warning them that their quarry is about to get out of range of the signal relayer.  At this point he realizes that he forgot to give them their receiver-decoder.  They're out of contact.

And here I thought that Gris was an idiot who consciously decided not to give his men a receiver.  But instead it turns out he's so mind-shatteringly stupid that he completely forgot about giving his men the device whose absence forced him to spend an entire book as a helpless bystander.

Book's done, series over.  There is no way the reader can be expected to believe this guy has any hope of stopping the amazing Jettero Heller.

Heller keeps driving, out of New York State.  He admires the beaches of Connecticut, remarking that "They haven't completely wrecked you yet, old planet," adding "But they're working on it pretty hard" after spotting an oil slick.  He follows his survey map down some country roads to a near-abandoned service station and talks to the blind old woman who owns it about renting the place.  She has the Disability Superpower that allows her to tell when Heller finishes his coffee, or threaten trespassers with her shotgun.

Once the deal is struck, Heller drives into the station and shines a special floodlight on his car, turning the old cab from Garfield orange to pitch black.  Gris has a conniption - obviously Heller had some Voltarian substances mixed in with the vehicle's paint, special pigments that shift their "refraction frequency" when lights shine on them.

Yes, of course a combat engineer would bring enough of the stuff to coat a car during an espionage mission to another planet.  Yes, of course the paranoid and meddling Apparatus would fail to notice or react to the stuff in Heller's luggage.

It gets better - once Heller has turned his garish cab into a somber roadster, he gets out another vial of Magic Color Stuff and spread it over his hands, face and hair.  A little more lightwork and he's suddenly a black man.  Well, a blue-eyed Manco with Caucasian features but inexplicably chocolate-colored skin, anyway.

He drives to a small town and walks into a real estate agency, introducing himself as... actually, he doesn't.  He's set up an appointment, somehow, and though his "English no not native tongue" Blackface!Heller inquires about a property on Goldmine Creek.  The realtor explains that the place used to be a bootlegger's camp until a reservoir made the creek dry up too much for boats to travel on.  Though the place may be haunted due to some bodies, y'know.

Heller gets the information and promises a commission if he buys it, before moving on to the next chapter.  Is the bootleggers' roadhouse haunted?  Would ghosts make this story better or worse?  Would Heller be dismissive of such superstition, or has he heard stories of Manco Wood Ghosts?  Find out next time on the next exciti... on the next episode of Mission Spork.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, April 2, 2012

Part Twenty-One, Chapter Three - How Many Double Entendres Can Hubbard Pack Into One Chapter

The Clown Car Cab takes the artists to the Gracious Palms, and Heller jokes that he hopes what follows won't be considered "prostituting" the artists' integrity.  He has them set up a little studio right in the lobby and call down Minette to model nude-ish in her grass skirt for a portrait meant for the Beautiful Tahiti Gilt-Edged Beaches Wonder Corporation, which is all about upholding the stereotypes of its client country.

Vantagio is annoyed at how this sideshow distracts clients entering the hotel, but Heller explains the benefits of having an artist (and a nude woman) right there in the lobby every day, every week, painting a portrait of a hooker chosen to represent a country.  "What the Gracious Palms needs is more penetration.  Consumer desire will be aroused in every country on the planet and you will have a better market projection into your resources!"

And it just goes on and on for two pages.  Heller assures his boss that this new positioning will put his group back "on top."  Vanatagio exclaims that he's done with taking things "lying down" and enduring this "seasonal interuptus" instead of spreading "this climax into a more bilateral approach, even multilateral."  He just knows consumers will "lap it up."

Izzy proposes adding a whole gallery to the Gracious Palms lobby, along with beauty contests to see which lucky girl will become Miss Country Name Here, winning free training and employment at the brothel.  Oh, and in a minute that no one was looking, he incorporated True Allure Fine Arts International.  Heller is happy that his friend is so "pregnant with ideas," and Vantagio celebrates the end of the "slack season," those doldrums when "Things go limp nine months of the year!  This will stiffen up foreign trade!"

Heller calls his new program Whore of the Week.  So... all of those entendres were accidental?  Or did the subtlety just completely tank out as the barrage continued?

As they leave, Izzy declares that Heller has passed his Marketing project.  Well actually, Izzy just says "Oy," which is pretty much what I was thinking, just with a different inflection.  Also, the whole thing was just "for fun," which I guess is better than a self-administered project graded by a buddy being accepted by a university.  Izzy's excited that Neorealism will be spreading all over the world, revolutionizing the art industry by letting painters depict things as they are.  Suck on that, Abstraction!  Another thing that Hubbard hates has been dealt a crushing blow by his superpowered hero!

This is really a meaningless chapter save for the very last half-page, in which Heller declares that he considers "Phase One of the Master Plan complete."  And boy does Gris freak out.  But wouldn't you know it, all those days he spent obsessing over his slave girl, he forgot to reload the "recording strip reservoir" for his spy equipment.  On the one hand, this would at least suggest that he was competent enough to set the machine to automatically record everything without his supervision.  On the other hand, it's kinda sad that these star-spanning aliens are using tape-based data storage.  They could at least have been given a technological edge with floppy discs.

A sort of savage feeling began to grip me.  Heller and all this success with women.  Wasn't it his fault that I had gotten into this mess in the first place?  And if he hadn't been distracting me, I wouldn't be in any trouble with Utanc?

A burning, bitter hatred of Heller began to sear through me.

Just now?!  Three books and countless setbacks and humiliations into the series, and you just now are starting to hate Heller?

Back to Chapter Two