Thursday, May 31, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Five - An Action Sequence Involving a Child's Toy

Gris passes the following day sitting around the hotel room, not at all surprised by or interested in Utanc's absence.  Instead he notes a news story about Rockecenter arriving from a Middle East energy conference "where he had settled the world problems of energy forever until next week when the price was going up again."  His homecoming had required a military escort of two- to three hundred soldiers, which seems a bit redundant after a certain point.

That evening, Gris once again calls on Madame Pizzazz, who is again disappointed that the young suitor at the front door turns into an uninterested roof inspector by the time he reaches her floor.  And thanks to the magical X-ray telescope with built-in microphones, the meat of this chapter is spent spying on Heller, who it turns out isn't writing that report at all.

Now, Hubbard likes innuendo.  Too much.  We saw that in the whole "joint occupation" decision between two diplomats chasing the same prostitute, where the double entendres just got tedious.  This chapter's no different.

Heller's sitting on his bed, drinking a Seven-Up (did Hubbard want to get compensated for product placement, because there's a lot of Seven-Up in this novel) while Bang-Bang watches TV, but then Vantagio brings in a new girl, Margie, for the two lads to "break in."  Heller asks if she's sure about this, since "it's kind of rough the first time," but Margie is enthusiastic because she's heard that Heller has "something big going on!"

Bang-Bang doesn't want to get involved because he can only do this so often without getting sore, but Vantagio protests that it's good for the workers' morale, and that all the girls "feel pretty cocky when you're through with them."  Margie is asked if she wants to be lying down or standing up, stripped or not, but Heller tries to stop him from leaving - "you'd better watch it or I'll use you!"  But the Sicilian bows out, claiming to be too old for this sort of thing, and leaves Heller and Bang-Bang to their work.  Heller asks Margie what experience she's had, and she mentions "A few boys in Duluth.  Just high school stuff, mainly.  In a car, back of the gym.  One or two professors.  And my brother, of course.  Nothing important."

Now at what point over the past two paragraphs did you realize that Heller couldn't possibly be about to have sex with Margie?  I'm guessing it was well before she mentioned her brother on her list of "experiences."  There's an upper limit to this sort of thing, a point at which double entendres go from clever and funny to gratuitous and tiresome and it's obvious the author it trying to mislead you.

What Heller is actually talking about is experience roughhousing.  He's got a self-defense course going for the girls at the Gracious Palms in case the patrons get a little too rough, to say nothing of creeps in back alleys on the way home.

Heller said, "Ever get battered around?"

The girl thought it over.  "Oh, yeah.  Once.  A drunk raped me."

Aaand the chapter comes to a halt while I stare slack-jawed at a line of dialogue.  So casual about what for most women is one of the most horrifying experiences imaginable.  And it takes her a bit of thought to remember it.

Yes, Margie got knocked out and raped by some drunk, but she certainly seems to have gotten over the experience enough to let Bang-Bang help her avoid a repeat incident.  She doesn't resist when Heller has Bang-Bang "rape" her, stripping her of her underclothes to titillate the readers, so Heller has her try to "rape" Bang-Bang, only to be thrown across the room when the demolitions expert "simply threw his wrists up."  Yep, it's that simple, girls.  Up with your wrists and away the attacker goes.  You've only yourself to blame if you get raped now.

Heller wraps up the introductory lesson and explains how with further instruction Margie - well I call her Margie because that's what she's introduced as, but afterward the book still calls her "the girl" - will be able to escape any hold, and even learn how to pretend to be under control but able to escape at any moment.  While Margie leaves she has a quiet talk with Bang-Bang, asking if the rumors are true about Heller being a virgin.  Gris is disgusted.

I was in total, utter disgust.

Told you.

How Heller was conning them!  Pretending these were things he had dreamed up!  

Isn't that the point of this exercise, to pretend to invent superior fuel sources to help us poor, stupid humans?

He was teaching them Voltarian unarmed combat techniques.  And he was a dithering fool, too!  A whole household of beautiful women and he had been wasting his time teaching them how to protect themselves!  A traitor to all men everywhere!  How about all those who only got their kicks beating up whores?  How about them?  Thoughtless (bleepard).

A man must be masterful!

I'll let Gris' cuckolded relationship with Utanc speak for itself here.

And then we get four pages of a Hubbard Action Sequence.  Madame Pizzazz, looking like "a sixty-year-old demon from Hells!", has followed Gris up to the roof and is enraged that this man who has toyed with her emotions is a peeping tom.  She has a BB pistol in hand and informs him she's called the cops to warn of a sniper on the roof.  So Gris must escape before getting arrested, having completely forgotten about his special Senate Investigator status that lets him boss around federal authorities, which he went through so much trouble to get a hold of at the start of this Part.  One stray shot damages the delicate circuitry of the Magical Telescope, so Gris dives into cover behind some air conditioners.

My head was in view for an instant.

The deadly pffft! of the air pistol coupled with the clang of the pellet striking sheet metal right beside my head!

She was a deadly marksman!  A killer!  Maybe a hit woman in her youth!

I skittered further!  I took another peek.  Bathrobe flaring like the cloak of an avenging horseman, she was following me up!

Another lethal pffft! and deadly clang!

Oh, this called for top Class A strategy!  And a SWAT team on its way?  This called for Joint Chiefs of Staff Maximum National Emergency Plan Triple X!  Maybe atomic bombs!

I think the fact that this is written exactly like every other action sequence in Mission Earth is supposed to enhance the humor.  It's not doing much for me, but then again I'm pretty cynical and jaded.  Maybe it's hilarious and I just can't see it.

Long story short, Gris scampers past her, taking a stinging but non-mortal hit in the buttocks, and flees down the apartment building's stairs.  There's a lot of police cars on the street outside, and he realizes that he left the Magic Telescope's case on the roof, so he tosses the peeping device, leaving a highly-valuable if slightly-damaged piece of alien technology sitting in a garbage can.  Miss Pizzazz is still on the roof yelling, BB-gun in hand, so Gris goes to the police surrounding the building (led by Bulldog Grafferty) and screams about "Mad Maggie, the Times Square Sniper!"  The cops open fire and a bullet-riddled old lady splats on the pavement.

The chapter ends with Gris walking home, noting that "It was a bit hard to saunter with that BB in my butt."  See, it's funny because he just killed a woman by proxy.

Back to Chapter Four

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Four - More Voyeurism

I was wondering how much easier Gris' job would be if he got one of those speck-sized cameras on a remote-controlled, tiny robot to send to Heller's room, and that got me to thinking - have there even been robots in Mission Earth?  I don't think there's been any, which in retrospect is kind of a glaring absence.  We've seen black holes harnessed for energy and starship engines that warp space-time, yet the Voltarians seem to rely on purely physical laborers.  There's no mention of android waiters at the swanky restaurants, no battered maintenance droids helping service the Prince Caucalsia at the Apparatus hangars, to say nothing of spy drones that Gris could be taking advantage of.  The closest thing we've had to a robot character was our dear friend the Apparatus Computer, but it probably isn't sentient, just well-programmed by a smartass.

There wasn't much use of artificial intelligences in Battlefield Earth either, just a drone aircraft that flew on a preprogrammed course and dropped bombs.  So is this another one of Hubbard's deficiencies as a sci-fi author, or is this a philosophical choice?  "Life handles force!" remember.  Maybe a Roomba is heretical to the guy and he deliberately excluded robots from his satirical sci-fi epic.

Wait a sec, this is being "translated" by 54 Charlee Nine, the Robotbrain in the Translatophone.  So where's the other 53 Charlees?  Why hasn't there been any mention of such Robotbrains?  Did Hubbard even come up with this, or was it tacked on with the rest of the "Gris' confession" framing device to make up for hacking Mission Earth into ten volumes?

Anyway, the chapter.  Gris has Sexy Time with Utanc, and though we are spared the details he assures us that "Of course, it was wonderful."  Utanc disappears afterward, and Gris decides she's taking a walk instead of wondering what the hell is up with his "girlfriend."  He "suddenly" decides that his luck has turned around and should be made the most of, so he sets out towards an apartment building near the Gracious Palms with the magical telescope in hand.

Gris decides to ring up one of the top-floor tenants to gain entry and buzzes one Margarita Pompom Pizzazz, under the assumption that she's a "showgirl with a lot of boyfriends" used to late-night liaisons.  Unfortunately upon reaching her room he learns Miss Pizzazz is pushing sixty, so Gris decides he's a roof inspector instead of "an old flame."  From the building's top he whips out his magical telescope and starts peeping.

Gris finds the faux jungle/beach room where UN representatives can relieve the romantic conquests of their youth, because as we all know, people of certain skin tones rut in the dirt like animals.  "A small brown diplomat, with his top hat still on, was really making a score with a coal-black girl!"

Oh, it gets worse.

Finally, from somewhere he produced a rope and managed to get it around her ankles and her wrists.  And then he really gave it to her!

I thought I had been satisfied for the evening.  I began to get aroused.  He was going to kill her for sure!

Welp.  Just in case you hadn't found a reason to dislike Gris yet, the author was kind enough to suggest that Gris is into snuff flicks.  Thanks for taking the time to develop your really disgusting characters instead of moving on with the plot, Hubbard.

Unfortunately for Gris, the session ends with both the diplomat and the prostitute still breathing, so he keeps panning the magical telescope around in search of Heller's room.  He eventually finds it, with Heller asleep on his bed, but on the pillow next to him is a Voltarian holographic bust of "THE COUNTESS KRAK!"  How unexpected!  How shocking that this character would have a picture of the woman he fell in love with two books ago! 

Now you might remember that Gris has somehow come to the conclusion that if he gets the Countess to Earth, she'll kill Heller for daring to live in a hotel with other women.  The sight of this display of continued devotion is enough to cause Gris a brief twinge of doubt concerning that plan.

For some reason, I knew not why, it made me uneasy.  Then I threw it off.  What a dog he was, having all these women every day and still putting out Countess Krak's picture!

What does it say about you as an author when your characters keep "suddenly" having thoughts and impulses for reasons they can't determine? 

Thus ignoring that spark of logic trying desperately to be heard in his brain, Gris goes on to scan Heller's chambers with the magical telescope.  But magic is fickle, and though the device can see through walls with relative ease, he can't use it to penetrate the piles of laundry that might be concealing the all-important platen.  Gris realizes that Heller is due to write his third report soon, and so plans on returning the next night to hopefully catch him in the act of retrieving the platen to encrypt it.  Because of course Heller will write the report just before going to bed, as Gris expects, rather than at any point during the coming days.

Fighting the urge to keep a-peeping on the whoring going on at the Gracious Palms, Gris returns to his room where, to nobody's surprise, Utanc is still strangely absent.  Gris doesn't give the matter any thought whatsoever.  Gris does a lot of not-thinking, you may have noticed, which is nearly as bad as the times he does try to puzzle his way through a situation. 

Back to Chapter Three

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Three - Skyscraper Trumps Obelisk

With his status as a Senate Investigator secured, Gris is now able to boss around any government official in America, which I guess he needs to do to take down Heller.  You know, the guy working with an organized crime syndicate at odds with the government.  It's time to go to New York and settle things once and for all!

Two days later and Gris is still waiting on Utanc to finish up her mysterious errands in Washington D.C.  Gris, who effectively purchased Utanc from a smuggler, can't or won't be so crass as to order her to come along with him, and apparently trying to persuade her would be a waste of effort.  Held hostage to her whims, Gris decides to hire a cab and follow Utanc on her next outing.  He tails her to the Lincoln Memorial and watches her staring down the National Mall.  Despite his attempts to be discrete, Utanc turns as Gris approaches, addresses him as Sultan Bey, and talks about how beautiful the Washington Monument is.

My curiosity was aroused.  "What's so beautiful about it?"

"So tall, so white, so hard."  She put her finger in her mouth and looked at it again.

Inspiration!  I said, "That's only 550 feet high.  In New York City, the Empire State Building is 1,472 feet high, close to three times as tall!"

"It is?" she said, incredulous.

"Indeed, it is," I said.  "It even has a spike at the top."  And we left that very night for New York City.  It takes real genius to operate in the Apparatus!

So Utanc is a "simple desert girl" with a suspicious knowledge of modern audio equipment, foreign languages, international fashion, and old movie stars, who disappears on mysterious errands just about daily.  She's clearly being set up to be a spy or something.  And yet she's also simple enough to be impressed by phallic imagery and wants to go to New York to see the spike at the top of the Empire State Building?  Or, if that bit of aching stupidity was a sham for Gris' benefit, why did she wait until he followed her to the Memorial to agree to go where he wanted to?  Why not just cave in the next time he pestered her?  Or is he even asking her to get ready to head out?  Was she waiting for him to work up the nerve to follow her out so they could move on?  Why not just tell him she's ready to move on?

And why the hell does Gris have the heights of a monument in the nation's capital and a landmark in New York memorized?  Does he also know the height of the Sears Tower?  The UN Building?  Is this trivia limited to the United States, or has he also memorized the heights of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben?  When did he study this, and why?  What about buildings on Voltar?  Wait, I just checked and the Monument is 555 feet tall and the Empire State Building is only listed as 1454 feet tall by Wikipedia.  Did these heights change between now and when this was written?  Was Gris just making up numbers? 

This is how brain-breaking one stupid penis joke is in this wretched book.

They get to New York and rent a penthouse in a hotel Wikipedia doesn't recognize.  Gris is elated that there's a second bedroom, so he's graduated from the sitting room couch to an actual mattress.  Utanc is presumably comatose from overstimulation after seeing all those tall, rigid, multistory structures making up the city.  The next morning Gris tries to turn on the HellerVision but gets a flare out - he's too close to the relayer installed on the Empire State Building to see what Heller's up to.

Since every Apparatus agent in New York is hunting down criminals who need a new face courtesy of Gris' half-baked Mobster Hospital, we get one and a half pages of Gris going to the Empire State Building to switch off the relayer himself, before chickening out at the thought of climbing up the radio towers extending from the 102nd floor (the view from the top: "This place was HIGH!").  Instead he goes to Raht and Terb's hospital, berates his men for having broken arms and a wired jaw, and poses as an investigator hunting draft dodgers (in the 1980's?  Or did Hubbard start writing in the 70's and didn't change anything after the war ended?) to get them sawn out of their casts and discharged, presumably so they can climb up the Empire States Building and switch off that relayer for Gris.

When Gris returns to his hotel room (Utanc has disappeared as usual) he suddenly remembers the magical telescope from a few chapters ago, which he brought along for this trip.  We get another attempt to explain how it works.

The telescope, when you turned it on, wasn't really a telescope as such.  It threw a beam.  The beam sensed the other side of a wall by going through the spaces between the molecules of a wall and not finding any.  When it didn't find any more to go through, it made a patch of energy which acted as a mirror.  And the image on that mirror was what came back to the viewer.  It also had an audio pickup.  Well, well.  It sure looked like a telescope.

From this we can conclude that the molecules that make up an object are set in a rigid, regular pattern so that a beam can go between two molecules and not hit a third.  And that said beam is an intelligent beam able to tell the difference between not hitting anything because it's traveling between molecules and not hitting anything because it isn't going through a wall anymore.  And that this beam carries soundwaves as well as relaying light to create images. 

The more Hubbard tries to explain it, the worse it gets.

All that aside, the Magical Telescope is useless because it keeps confusing New York's smog for the walls of buildings.  Then Utanc shows up with some bellboys carrying lots of baggage from her latest shopping trip, and when questioned about finances reveals that somehow most of the money she's started with is still there.  Gris doesn't ponder this mystery, because Utanc is all excited by the Empire State Building, so "tall and bold and hard!  So HIGH!"  She suggests that after dinner, when the lights are out, she might come into Gris' room and "well... you know..."

So Gris gives up on getting anything else accomplished that day in anticipation of Sexy Times.  End chapter.

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, May 25, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Two - The Rockecenter Story

We go from Gris deciding to get to work in the last chapter to Gris sitting for an interview with one Senator Twiddle, as though he teleported to the capitol building.  "The ease with which you can get to see a United States Senator is mind boggling.  You just tell his secretary that you are the head of a local labor union from his home state and bango, there you are in his presence!"

Twiddle, a man of "a patrician if someone alcoholized countenance," was revealed as a Mafia contact during Gunsalmo Silva's interrogation, while Gris knows him to be a loyal supporter of Delbert John Rockecenter.  Gris asks if he can get a face-to-face meeting with Rockecenter to pass on some dire information, but Twiddle balks at this.  This Rockecenter is a dangerous fella, so dangerous in fact that Twiddle spends half the chapter giving an impromptu lecture on the Rockcenter family history to a patiently listening Gris.

I got two questions for this chapter.  First, Rockecenter's company is doing lots of business with the Apparatus, right?  Getting all those drugs to Voltar to get everyone hooked and under Lombar Hisst's control?  So presumably there's some way for the Apparatus to get in touch with these people.  Why then does Gris have to go through a mob contact in the US Senate? 

Second, Gris seriously doesn't know about Rockecenter the man?  I can buy him not being familiar with the family story, but you'd think he'd at least know a little about the linchpin of the Apparatus' schemes on Earth and beyond.  Why isn't Gris the one telling us this as he drives to a meeting with Mr. Bury, Rockecenter's attorney?  Is this whole chapter set up just so the author can make fun of a senator who says "don't quote me" five or six times during his story?

Anyway, here's The Rockecenter Story: they were originally the Rochengenders (according to Babel Fish, "skate towards that"), a German family that immigrated in the 1800's and made money selling crude oil as a cure for cancer.  Oh, and the patriarch was wanted for rape.  You know, to establish that these guys are bad blood even in the beginning.  As Twiddle puts it, "The family proceeded to go downhill while their finances went uphill."  We're not told what they did to make them worse than a rapist snake oil salesman, but just accept that every single member of this bloodline is a villain and we can get done with this chapter all the faster.

The next generation, after changing their names to Rockecenter, expanded the crude oil business and found new ways to use it when the automobile was invented, managing to dodge a Congressional attempt to break up their monopoly in the early 1900's.  The next generation expanded into drugs, and the one after that into politics, but the fourth generation "started to go to pieces" because wealth only lasts three generations (due to socialists).

But then Delbert John Rockecenter emerged to turn the family's fortunes around by remembering its founding principles: "Be moderate.  Be very moderate.  Don't let good fellowship get the least hold on you."  And "Trust nobody."  This involved price-gouging everybody and ruthlessly crushing any competition and murdering his Aunt Timantha to claim her inheritance, so I guess even moderates can be hardcore.

"Now, you may think he's old to look at him.  But don't let that fool you.  He's a powerhouse of cunning!  He's the most rapacious (bleepard) I have ever met.  He is as crooked as a corkscrew.  He has my undying support!"

O... kay.  Well, at least Senator Twaddle (?, NJ) is open about his evilness.  None of that "ends justify the means" stuff or a subplot about being blackmailed into compliance, Twaddle knows Rockecenter is a slimeball, and supports him for it.

So Twaddle finishes his story with "And that's the man you're asking to see personally," reassuring Gris that not even heads of state get to see Rockecenter whenever they please.  But he'll pass along Gris' message to Rockecenter's attorneys.  Then Gris reveals that he can already talk to Rockecenter's attorneys through his Mafia contacts.

Then why is Gris here?

Gris' comment about the Mafia gives the senator pause: "The unions and the Mafia.  I should have known."  After asking if Gris is sure there's a serious issue, and being told about the possible alternate fuel source threatening Rockecenter's oil monopoly, the senator agrees to set Gris up with credentials as a Senate Investigator.  This - and not Gris' membership in a smuggling operation connected with Rockecenter's pharmaceutical interests - will guarantee a meeting with the man himself. 

Heller, I said to myself, your chin is almost under.  All you need is one firm push to grease your hair with boiling oil.

Now all I had to do was pry Utanc out of Washington.

Oh, yes, let's not get carried away and move on to the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.  More time wasted with Utanc, please.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter One - Gris Leaves His Brain in Turkey

So after 283 pages of the villainous protagonist waiting for his mail-order bride, trying to win back the heart of a woman he purchased as a personal belly dancer, falling into depression, listlessly watching the heroic antagonist make progress, writing angry memos to his henchmen, failing to note the obvious, launching half-baked schemes that turn out to be a complete waste of time, and trying to appear busy to appease his bosses, Soltan Gris is finally leaving Turkey to try and get stuff done.  And it's not an overnight trip where he's dropping off some junk, he is serious now.  Heller is going down.

Whenever Utanc gets ready, of course.  She wastes a day taking her boys to a professional photographer, and Gris notes that the little gits are "insufferably smug" about their plastic surgery.  Then Utanc has to pack, and I've no doubt that Gris will neither inspect her luggage nor wonder what's making those five trunks so heavy.  But the next day they're on their way.

There's also some clumsy writing.  Gris, as narrator, explains to us that he wants to discuss the trip to Washington D.C. "to give you some idea of the trials an Apparatus officer faces in his efforts to do his duty."  This is transparently an opportunity for the author to show Utanc acting suspicious, and reinforce Gris as an arrogant, useless twerp.  Except we've had chapter after chapter of Gris running minor errands and devoting whole paragraphs to describing his Authentic Turkish Lunch, so there's no reason to think Gris wouldn't spend a chapter telling us about the hotels he stayed at.  And as for Gris giving us "some idea of how hard it was to get to Washington," there is absolutely no difficulty involved.  They just fly into the country.  Gris doesn't wrangle with customs or struggle to get a ticket, the passage is a non-event.  In short, Hubbard is excusing something that doesn't need an excuse and doesn't fit the excuse.

Apparently last chapter Gris agreed to let Utanc handle the money, and she also surprises him by handling the hotel reservations too.  When they fly to Rome they get a room at the Hotel Salvatore Magnifico Cosioso (no idea).  The "shy, wild desert girl" is somehow able to read the street signs and realize that the taxi driver is taking the long route to run up their fare, and chews him out in almost-fluent Italian (Utanc says he's "got another think coming," and I'm not sure if that's an accent, an intentional mistake, or a typo).  Gris decides she's been studying a tourist phrasebook that must've included a section on threatening to shove a stiletto up someone's (bleep). 

While at the hotel, Utanc hauls all her stuff into the bedroom, kicks Gris out into the sitting room, and locks the door.  Gris spends a full three hours wondering what she's doing in there before wandering off to the hotel bar, but on the way he sees a beautiful European woman he realizes is Utanc walking towards their suite.  She goes in and locks the door without noticing him.  "And that was my stay in Rome--two days of it."

Gris doesn't wonder what's going on, try to talk to Utanc, assemble the clues that something is not right, see about a pity (bleep), get suspicious, offer to go out to dinner, or show any curiosity towards this unexpected situation.  He is no longer a first-person narrator, or even a character in his own right.  Now he's just a regular narrator, commenting on another character's actions without having any effect on the story whatsoever.

Next up is Paris, and the Chateau Le Beau Grand Cher (no idea either), where Utanc spends a full ten minutes lecturing a waiter, in French, over some unacceptable bubbly stuff.  Gris of course thinks it's perfectly normal that a "shy desert girl would object to out-of-date champagne," though he decides he's losing his touch at observation by not spotting Utanc study her phrasebook.  Then he spends another two days on the suite's sitting room couch as Utanc comes and goes with loads of packages.  The most curiosity he shows is when he wonders about some laughter coming from the bedroom.

This is a guy who stuck a listening device in Utanc's room last chapter, and spent other chapters camped out on her front lawn hoping for a glimpse of her, or trying to protect her from some imagined threat.  Someone who decided he can't live without this girl, and is jealous towards two little boys who help her around the house (for, to be fair, perfectly legitimate reasons).

London, Royal Suite of the Savoy Hotel, three days on a couch in the sitting room while Utanc goes "shopping."  The last night Gris notes that she returned in her veil, looking strangely hollow-eyed.  The chapter ends with an uneventful flight to D.C.  and the Willard Hotel, with Utanc making sure to order a Liebfraumilch '54 from Room Service in perfect English.  But this time Gris notices a tourist phrasebook in her bag.  "That mystery was solved!"  

Once again, Hubbard has written a plot that requires certain characters to be complete morons for it to work.  A sixth-grader would have noticed that Utanc's actions don't mesh with her backstory, but Soltan Gris will forget to be an intelligence operative for as long as necessary for this Mysterious Utanc subplot to continue.

Back to Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Eight - Another Sexual Deviant Joins the Cast Herd

Unabridged version here.

Okay, so telescopes - or at least old school, pre-electronics telescopes - work by taking advantage of painstakingly-crafted lenses to warp light so that objects viewed through them appear bigger, yes?  While stuff like X-ray or radio telescopes or whatever use special receivers and interpret a bunch of data into an image.  Now, Gris' new telescope somehow uses another object as its "lens" to look through.  Since it isn't magically transforming a wall or whatever into a radio array, wouldn't it then  be warping the object in question to act as a lens?  So wouldn't that make a pretty powerful weapon?  Point the device at a fortress and twist it to rubble?

I'm sorry, I'm obsessing over a minor item from last chapter to delay looking at this one.  This is a bad chapter.

Gris sneaks an audio-only bug under Utanc's rug while Melahat the housekeeper is cleaning, fiddles with his magical telescope that only works on objects farther than a hundred feet away from it, then goes to sleep and dreams about Heller being horribly killed and Utanc hopping in his bed.  The next morning he collects two small, surprisingly docile mummies from Dr. Prahd, leaves a note to Utanc on them ("unwrap carefully"), and sets the boys down in front of Utanc's bungalow.  Then he gives one a kick and flees when the kid screams.

Once Utanc collects her servants and seals herself in her room again, Gris returns to his and tries to get something out of the bug.  He of course reads the directions after he's placed the thing, and learns that it was meant to be stuck on a picture frame instead of under something.  But he cranks up the gain all the way to eavesdrop, and an hour later can make out some running water.  And things get disturbing pretty fast.

Utanc signs a song while in the bath with "little Rudy" and "little James," then promises to take them into the bedroom and "teach you some lovely games."  Over the course of the afternoon he hears more singing, loud noises, and delighted squealing.  He can't make much sense of it, and gives up trying to.  Sometimes I wish I was as naive as Gris.

After going to bed, he's awakened by Utanc, who shows her appreciation for his little gift of two boys surgically modified to resemble old movie stars.  Afterward, Gris is jubilant.

Her arm was across my naked chest.

Joy began to well up in me.

I had WON!

Yes, though Heller is in position to destroy the Apparatus operation on Earth and Gris has squandered any resource he could use to stop him, though he has in fact ordered Heller's closest ally to come to Earth, and though his lack of progress has resulted in death threats against him from his superiors, Gris just got laid.  Victory.

Eventually he explains that he needs Utanc to come with him on a diplomatic mission because she's in danger here.  She's a little skittish, but agrees to come along disguised as Gris' wife if she can have five trunks to pack and they stop for clothes in Rome, Paris and London (London is a fashion hub now?).  Gris is happy until she makes him promise to send those boys along after them once they've relocated, and only then does he realize that he might have "miscalculated" and created some future romantic rivals, while continuing to not notice that they're current romantic rivals as well.
But he takes comfort from the fact that Utanc is in his bed again.

Not a single thing stood between me and the total wreckage and demise of Heller.

How sweet life was!

How sweet!

There's just over a hundred pages left in this book and Gris is finally, finally willing to move against Heller beyond writing memos and watching what he does on a TV screen.  I no longer have any doubt as to how Hubbard plans on stretching this saga out over ten books.  My question now is what excuses Gris will find in the next books to not do his job. (editor's note from the future: the answer is money problems and more disturbing sex scenes)

Back to Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Seven - A Magical Telescope, Gold Lust, and a Lebanese

 And now for a chapter of Gris frittering away a week over the course of six pages.

Gris spends the first page congratulating himself on improving his plan - he was originally going to have the kid's faces fixed and win back Utanc's heart that way, but now that he's turning them into little versions of her favorite vintage movie stars, well, she's going to love him for sure!  He compares the boys to knickknacks stuck on a shelf, to be admired from time to time and occasionally dusted.

If you've thought of a way this plan to turn two pre-adolescents into body doubles of hunks a woman is already infatuated with, congratulations, you're smarter than Gris.  Damning with faint praise, I know.

Gris also mentions how his self-confidence is returning after some harrowing days: "My id had been battered to a very low point of ego," but coming up with this plan left "my id chasing my ego to new altitude records."  I don't think that's how those concepts function, so once again the question is whether it's the character who doesn't know what he's talking about, or is it the author failing to do any research here?  Or, since this is a work of "satire," to what extent are these misunderstandings intentional?  And if these inaccuracies are intentional, how are we supposed to accept Soltan Gris as an embodiment of the evils of psychology?

The next four days are wasted trying to appease Gris' mysterious overseer by creating the illusion of productivity, like a secretary talking to a dial tone or a student hiding a comic book in a history text.  Since he thinks the guy leaving notes signed with a doodle of a dagger is someone working at the base - brilliant deduction there - Gris makes up a list of all personnel and hunts them down to ask what they know about poisons.  Thus Mr. Dagger Doodle will think Gris is undereducated in the arts of assassination and willing to waste day after day asking random schmucks for help instead of doing some actual research or coming up with a better plan.

By day five people are starting to look at him funny, so Gris mixes things up with a drill.  He triggers the alarm he had installed in his quarters so everyone takes up defensive positions in the hangar.  Once the crew's assembled, Gris gives a little pep talk explaining that he'll be going away soon to deal with a "certain person," which gets a round of cheers and warm well-wishes that leaves him quite touched.  We don't get to see what he said, but evidently it hit the spot.

For his last-minute preparations, Gris picks up a fake passport from the equally-fictitious "United Arab League" and also decides he could use some more surveillance bugs.  While rummaging in the hospital for those dust speck-sized electronic wonders... actually, no, he doesn't really rummage. He only checks the few boxes he can get at without doing any lifting.  How is the hero's victory in any doubt when the villain is literally too lazy to break a sweat?!

Anyway, Gris finds something downright magical:

In it there was a compact telescope.  It seemed to be able to see through walls.  Apparently, it used a distant solid wall as an extension of its lens.

From the language here, it sounds like Gris is just as dubious as I am.  On to the technobabble.

By utilizing the space between molecules, it could get a picture and sound waves through a solid.  One had to be at least a hundred feet away from the solid.  Aha!  The very thing!  I could use this to look into Heller's suite!  Interference or no interference!  I knew there were roofs nearby.  Here was a way to see what he did in his rooms and where he hid things!  I took it.

A telescope that uses a solid object a hundred feet away to convey audio and visuals, all thanks to the "space between molecules."  He could've said it was due to quantum and it would've made just as little sense.

Next on Gris' packing list is currency.  He uncrates his collection of gold bars - remember those? - and lays them out in his room to admire them.  And once again Hubbard writes a character with such gold lust that you have to wonder if the author had a fixation on the metal.

Bar by bar, I lined it up. I got my thumbnail in to each one, even my teeth. Nice and soft. Beautiful gold. Eighteen lovely fifty-pound bars of it! It lay there glowing.

Suddenly, I could not bear to part with any of it! I would find other means of financing my trip! Reverently I put it all away.

And then Gris was a dragon, too infatuated with shiny rocks to spend it on something useful.  Instead he hits ol' Faht Bey for some cash but is told that "the Lebanese" is at the hospital.  I took me five minutes of poring through the book to figure out who Bey is talking about here, but fifty pages ago he mentioned a Lebanese banker doing the borrowing and bartering required to keep the base afloat.  So Gris goes to see him.

The Lebanese is "bright yellow, no hair and only a couple of fangs left," someone Gris has gotten involved with before or during some revolts in that country.  He's fortified his office in the hospital basement with a maze of bulletproof glass and remote-controlled shotgun turrets, and utterly refuses to part with any of his one million dollars in mixed currencies.  So Gris leaves and gets some guys from the construction company to go down and get the money for him.  Gris "drove madly" to the offices, the manager "drove madly" back to the hospital, and came back with a quarter million dollars that Gris "madly" stuffed into a bag.

So Hubbard set up - in an offhand sentence that had little to do with the chapter it appeared in - a character who existed to mildly inconvenience Gris before being overcome in the span of a single page. A character who is presented as some sort of fanged monster hoarding treasure but otherwise has next to no purpose or effect on the plot.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you decide you don't need editors to help make your story better.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, May 21, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Six - A Brilliant Doctor, Just Don't Ask About His Girlfriend

Gris makes it to the hospital's secret basement with the two tied-up boys in tow, and summons Dr. Prahd Bittlestiffender, who happily has not been called out of bed with his underage nurse.  When Gris reveals that he has a job for him, Prahd complains that he isn't set up for plastic surgery yet.  Instead he's been using the facilities to engineer a contagious but benign microorganism that targets and consumes Chlamydia trachomatis, then supplies its host with vitamins.

Prahd also has plans to eradicate infant mortality, make all women bear triplets, and intends to mitigate the obvious consequences of the above with another benign microorganism that would allow its host to much more efficiently break down nutrients.  He's also thought of a way to quintuple the planet's grain yields and hopes to eradicate tuberculosis later.

So... I guess Prahd's been pretty busy when he wasn't being a sex offender.  Maybe I should give the guy a second chance.  Nobody's perfect, after all; Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner, and wasn't Einstein a cannibal or something?

Gris shoots down these attempts at humanitarian science with the excuse that the U.S. would lose a fortune in exported grain revenue (sorry, I'm not interested enough to look up records of U.S. grain exports during the 1980's to check this), though he's more concerned with the fact that no dead babies means no easy birth certificates for the Apparatus to appropriate.  Because God forbid the intelligence agency that employs master forgers have them fake some birth certificates, or use its undue influence with the Turkish government to abuse some official documents.

No, Gris insists that criminals are Prahd's best market, and on that note unbundles the two "vicious" patients he hauled in, advising the doctor to lock them up tight and hire some security.  Yeah, you do not want to see what one of those kids can do with a powder ball.  His orders are for Prahd to use the magical science of "cellology" to turn the boys into simulacrums of Rudolph Valentino and James Cagney respectively, or more accurately young versions of the same.  After a good half-page of haggling about when his pay starts, Prahd reveals that this transformative mix of surgery and gene therapy will take a week.  Gris reluctantly agrees to start paying his employee if he does a perfect job of it.

So there we have it.  More delays, more time wasted, more chapters with the plot left sitting in the driveway, engine idling, honking its horn in annoyance because the antagonist isn't ready yet.

All this because Gris doesn't want Utanc behind when he goes to New York to deal with the protagonist but Utanc hates him so Gris hopes to make her love him again by kidnapping her boy servants and sending them to get plastic surgery so they resemble the 1930's Hollywood stars she inexplicably is obsessed about.

Just sit back for a moment and appreciate how utterly nonsensical this book is.  

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, May 18, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Five - Death Threats and Child Abduction

The next morning, Gris takes the first step in his plan to make Utanc happy, which will involve terrifying a lot of people.  When she drives to town before lunchtime Gris grabs some choice weapons: a "Colt .44 Magnum Single Action Peacemaker" and a "Mannlicher 'Safari' over-and-under double-barrelled .458 caliber elephant rifle."  Wikipedia doesn't have much to say about the latter, but given the detail Hubbard has put into researching authentic Turkish dishes and other things ultimately irrelevant to the plot, I'll give him the benefit of a doubt.

Gris interrupts Melahat's gardening by sticking the business end of a gun designed to... hmm.  I was about to snark about an elephant gun being made to hunt arguably sentient critters, before realizing how incredibly hypocritical that would be.  Anyway, our narrator jams the gun in Melahat's face and vows to butcher the entire villa staff if she doesn't cooperate in getting Utanc's boyservants to emerge.  She goes to Utanc's quarters and yells that they're allowed to have their "present now to amuse you while she was gone."  Which sounds... eyebrow raising.

When one of the little scamps unlocks the door to peek out, Gris crashes inside, sending one boy tumbling and causing the other, bandaged child to scream from his bed.  He pulls off the feat of keeping a heavy rifle trained on one target while he draws his pistol to cover the other, and gets the hiccuping, crying, terrified boys to stand against the wall for a frisking.  Gris has learned from that deadly brush-beating incident back in Part Twenty, Chapter Nine, and isn't taking any chances.  He is not going to get hit with a powder ball this time!

Then Gris notices that Utanc has a whole set of books from The Illustrated Lives of Famous Stars, which might lead a smarter character to start wondering about this supposedly simple desert girl.  Instead Gris demands to know which movie stars Utanc likes the best, and learns that Utanc has smothered photos of Rudolph Valentino and James Cagney with lipstick kisses. 

Yeah, a Turkish "nomad" not only is interested in Hollywood stars, she shares the author's fixation on vintage Hollywood stars, including one who died sixty years ago.  Amazing coincidence, that.  Or else Hubbard couldn't be bothered to crack open an issue of People to find a contemporary heartthrob and had to go with what he remembered from his halcyon days of youth.

So Gris takes the relevant photos, tapes the boys' wrists and ankles together, wraps them in blankets, slings them over his shoulders like luggage, and hauls them out of the room.  He orders Melahat, kicked awake from a faint, to tell Utanc that the boys' grandmothers are ill - simultaneously - and the lads will be out of town for a few days.  If she doesn't cooperate or if Utanc suspects anything, he will of course kill everybody.

At the end of the chapter, Gris has an epiphany.  "Aha, I didn't need hypnohelmets.  All I needed was an elephant rifle!"  See folks, while sometimes you can bend peoples' minds to your will, usually it's just as effective to threaten their physical bodies with pain and death. 

Truly, Mission Earth has much to teach us. Why just two chapters ago we learned why we should hunt down and kill every practitioner of one type of science.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Four - Panic Mode

The knowledge that Heller is about to derail the Apparatus' gravy train, combined with the would-be assassin's death threats against Utanc, spur Gris to leap into action!  He races to Faht Bey's office and demands that he "Get Raht and Terb on this at once!"

It's possible to delegate too much.

Gris is reminded that Raht and Terb are incompetent morons still in the hospital after being brutalized by some prostitutes, and receives the unwelcome news that thanks to his Mobster Hospital project, every agent in the Apparatus' New York office is out looking for potential customers.  Gris has finally run out of people to do his job for him.  So he panics some more, yelling at the sky things like "I'm working on it!" and "I'll think of something!" to placate the mysterious enforcer leaving death threats on his pillow.

This attempt to act lasts until he thinks about Utanc, prompting him to check to see that she's still alive and not poisoned or anything.  Gris decides to spend the rest of the evening camped out in front of her patio with a bushel of hand grenades, fully intending to blow the hell out of anyone he thinks is trying to sneak up on the woman who loathes him.  It takes a few hours, but he eventually notes a flaw with his current plan, realizing "I couldn't sit there every night for months.  It was too cold."

Gris falls sleep.  Then he suddenly wakes up, all but instantly devising a plan to defeat Heller once and for: he will change location and go to New York, gather the most powerful allies imaginable, and "cook Heller's goose."  Then he realizes that would mean leaving Utanc behind.  An hour and another nap later and Gris wakes up with another plan, a plan of how to make Utanc accompany him to the States.

So yes, despite the dire warnings from his supervisor and Heller starting down the road of thwarting the Apparatus, Gris is going to spend the next four chapters trying to win back Utanc.  I'm wondering if her character was inserted just to help pad this thing enough for Hubbard to call it a "dekalogy," because like half this book has been Gris waiting for her to arrive or trying to make her happy. (editor's note from the future: no, her character was invented mainly to make Gris the butt of a "joke" in Book 8)

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Three - Heller Explains It All, Gris Finally Gets a Clue

Hoo boy, what a chapter.

Gris is disappointed to finish his walk, go to bed, and wake up the next morning without anybody killing him. Instead the mysterious assassin, who is displaying competence that begs the question of why Lombar didn't choose them to do Gris' job, leaves a note explaining that he or she will kill Utanc first unless Heller is stopped.

The Apparatus goon immediately freaks out and rushes to check on his mail-order bride, but nothing bad has happened to her yet.  Though relieved, he tries to puzzle out why his shadowy overseer is suddenly prodding him into action.  Gris concludes that they must know something about Heller that he doesn't, plops down on his Couch of Narration, and flips on the HellerVision.

Heller's in his Empire State Building offices, working with some machine parts at a worktable.  Gris immediately focuses on the new murals adorning the walls, a sequence of art pieces depicting oil refineries choking the sky with smog, wildlife drowning in oil slicks, hydrogen bomb mushroom clouds sprouting all across the planet, and finally what looks like spaceships bombarding Earth from orbit.

Yes, pollution apparently leads to nuclear war, which provokes an alien invasion.  And the saddest thing is that even though this is clearly the worst-case scenario the Voltarians discussed back at the beginning of Book 1 when they came up with Mission Earth, Gris can't make heads or tails of it.  He thinks the last mural is "a sort of fantasy drawing," possibly "the original of some magazine cover?"  He literally cannot recognize the mission he's been assigned to.

Rather than trying to puzzle this out, Gris studies the other people in the room - a bartender, because every good office/workshop needs drinks on tap, five beautiful young women in short skirts or skimpy dresses, and Izzy the accountant, who is telling Heller how bad a headache he got from whatever they were discussing last night.  With but a gesture Heller gets his friendly bartender to whip up a Bromo Seltzer (if you hadn't caught on yet, Hubbard was old).  And it's at this point that Gris starts to relax, because obviously Heller couldn't be accomplishing much in this atmosphere of nerdy Jews with upset tummies and beautiful women eating ice cream while hanging on to Heller's every word.

But with Izzy's delicate physical condition temporarily remedied, Heller is free to continue the lecture that gave Izzy a headache in the first place.  And now the chapter gets fun!

"It all boils down to whether or not a society can handle force.  This one doesn't seem able to.

"Now, pay attention.  You must be able to convert matter to energy.  Then you can use energy to move matter.

Yeah, Heller's got a good half-page of a speech for us, broken up into two- to three-sentence paragraphs I guess for the sake of clarity.  Presumably the author wanted to make sure we understood this.  So far it seems simple enough: matter to energy to manipulate matter, like burning coal to power a drill to get more coal.  But then things get kooky. 

"Politically, financially and every other way, you have to know how to handle force.  If you don't, you can blow up the whole society.

Heller doesn't actually define "force" at any point, by the way.  By default he would be discussing an influence that changes an object.  So be damn careful when you pick up that rock or reheat some strips of bacon, that awesome power you're toying with can destroy civilization!

"Now for some screwball reason, this society considers life junior to force. This is a nutty philosophy called materialism or mechanism. It is false.

"Unless this society snaps out of it and gets rid of that philosophy, which is just primitive nonsense, this society will never be able to survive.

Materialism is the school of thought concerned more with a world of matter and energy than the competing Idealist focus on spirit or mind, and its early philosophers paved the way for atomic theory.  Mechanism is interested in a universe of objects behaving as parts in a complex mechanical system governed by identifiable laws of nature, though it has trouble applying this model to the mysteries of the human mind.  Hubbard, the man who gave us Thetans, would naturally despise both ideas.  The human mind can't be influenced by anything as rude as matter, it's all about alien souls getting lodged in your body until you pay for some auditing services to get the buggers removed.

I also like Heller's reasoning for why his competing philosophy is superior: because.  He doesn't really explain his alternative or try to justify it, he just calls the competing views "false" and "primitive nonsense."  A does not follow B, B follows A.  Why?  Because he said so, dumbass.  Aren't you listening?

"The fact is, it is life that handles force!  Only life can gives things direction.  Matter cannot control matter--it has no intentions.  Life is NOT a product of matter.  It is its boss!

Hubbard refuses to accept any talk of life spontaneously forming from some primordial ooze.  Much more believable is the theory of nigh-omnipotent thought-beings spontaneously forming all of existence for giggles.

Huh, religious folk and atheists might have more in common than they think. 

"You want this society to get into space?  Start


considering that life can handle force.  You want this culture to survive, realize that it is life than handles force.

Another problem with Heller's rant here is that Materialism and Mechanism are not unopposed in the philosophical world, but are constantly debating with rival Idealist and Vitalist schools of thought.  Also, there's been no indication the world is in the grips of some sort of Materialist malaise.

Well, besides those poor lost souls who encountered philosophy and decided "I'm an animal, so that makes gang rape okay."

"Anybody telling you otherwise is not only trapping you on this planet, he is also trying to destroy it."

How?  How does focusing on the mechanics of the universe hold back the space program and destroy the world?  How does emphasizing the quantifiable and physical threaten the species?

"Oh dear," said Izzy.  "Does that mean we'd better shoot all the psychologists and other materialists?"


"I'm not talking about shooting anybody, but it might be a good idea.  They've got you trapped on this planet!"

And there's the money quote for this chapter.  Go kill a psychologist, folks.  For the sake of the space program.  Seriously, hunt down and murder any practicing therapist you can get your hands on.  It's them or you.  Your alien savior commands it.

"I abhor violence," said Izzy.

This was your idea!  You're the one who suddenly started talking about killing people!

Cripes, this chapter isn't even halfway over.

Izzy changes the subject to the matter converter Heller wanted to show off, and Heller gets out one of the educational models he packed for his mission two books ago, taking it apart in front of Izzy and three screwdriver-twirling girls.  He explains the "simple chemistry" behind it: a carbon rod has atoms with six electrons, while oxygen has eight and hydrogen only one.  "The machine simply shifts electrons in the atoms.  Carbon loses its identity as carbon.  Its electrons shift up and down on the periodic chart and you get oxygen and hydrogen."  Simple nuclear transmutation, except Heller's version evidently doesn't require a particle accelerator. 

Now the electric potential in this process would be ideal for electric motors, but Heller's modifying the ubiquitous internal combustion engine since "people seem addicted to it."  You can stick any old carbon - plant matter, asphalt, textiles - into his magical device, and the engine will burn the resulting oxygen and hydrogen.  A hand signal gets the three onlooking girls to flamboyantly pass and twirl him the materials needed to speed-draw a series of engineering diagrams detailing how his magic box works and how to reproduce it.

The plan is to attribute the design to an anonymous engineering team employed by Multinational before releasing it on the market.  Izzy is deeply concerned: this sort of clean, super-efficient energy would threaten the dastardly Delbert John Rockecenter's energy monopoly, and could lead to the end of the oil industry as we know it.  And it is only after Izzy says this, at the very end of the chapter, that Gris finally grasps the implications of what he's watched Heller do over the past few weeks.

I went cold.  Suddenly I understood what Heller was about to do!

Told ya.

Those (bleeped) children's demonstration kits.  He was using it [sic] for a carburetor!  For any car or engine!

You watched him install the prototype.

My Gods!

And who are they, exactly?

The very worst was happening!  If Delbert John Rockecenter lost a fortune, he could also lose his control of I. G. Barben Pharmaceutical!  Lombar was right!  Our arrangements with I. G. Barben would vanish!  And that would be the end of Lombar's fondest dreams on Voltar!

Well, not really.  I mean, Lombar's already got some of the goods on Voltar, and you can either grow more poppy or synthesize your own materials with your magical space technology.  It might delay his plans a bit, which he'd probably kill you for, but it isn't a complete disaster.

It WAS an emergency!

And I had not caught it!

Gris is the kind of guy who'd sell you charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, then realize he'd helped you build a bomb just before you blew up his car.  Clearly the best choice for sabotaging Mission Earth, Lombar, nice going.

This would not wait for Krak!  I had only a few weeks!

I must ACT!

Oh boy, I bet he's gonna write another stern memo!  

Aside the first: just before the end Heller is interrupted by some tailors asking him about the color of his racing uniform.  They suggest red to hide any blood that might result from his hobby, which Heller snorts at and suggests that they add more padding to the front of his blue racing suit, "to absorb the blood."  It's at this mention of blood that Izzy suggests hiring a 24-7 security team to guard Heller, which our hero also pooh-poohs.  Presumably this is more relevant than the color of his racing suit.

Aside the second: Heller's speech patterns are just a little suspicious in this chapter.  "Um, yeah, Mr. Jet?  Why do you keep using 'you' instead of 'us,' and talk about 'your planet' instead of 'our planet?'  I mean, you're a human like the rest of us, right?  Not some sort of alien introducing wondrous new technology the likes of which we've never seen before?" 

Really, it's chapters like this that make reading through the rest of Mission Earth worth it. 

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Two - Putting the "Satire" in Funeral

With his latest attempt to waste the reader's time with a meaningless sideplot thwarted, Gris reluctantly turns on the HellerVision, hoping to find his enemy in some trouble he can take schadenfreude from.  What he finds is a funeral in progress in an enormous cathedral, with majestic, sorrowful music and a sobbing, black-clad Babe Corleone being comforted by Heller.  Yes, it's the memorial for Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty, sent home with the Turkish consul those nights ago.  In the largest church in the nation.  Complete with media coverage.

I guess this is a satire of how America glorifies the passing of criminal celebrities while ignoring the deaths of everyday heroes?

There are speeches.  A choir boy says how if it weren't for Jimmy, he'd never have learned to "let the other boys love me!"  An old man from a reform school fondly remembers how a young Jimmy organized the largest riots ever to ever rock the youth prison, calling him "the idol of a thousand street gangs."  And then a prison psychologist calls Jimmy a model patient who took to behavior modification therapy like a duck to water.  "He went from bad to worse and finally, under my careful coaching, became the very embodiment of American crime."

Now wait a minute.  Psychologists are the very definition of evil, right?  And Bang-Bang at least is a mobster who recognizes this.  So he's okay with this one being here, okay with him warping an associate?  Babe hasn't heard any complaints and is fine with having her subordinates' heads scrambled by these quacks?

And this is ignoring the fact that the psychologist is outright admitting to making prisoners into even worse criminals, something no sane person would pay him to do.  Therefore, this nightmarish vision of Earth is inhabited by lunatics willing to defy logic and self-interest so that Hubbard can "satirize" them.  Or else this isn't that much of a parody and he actually views everyone else this way.

Jimmy's casket gets taken outside through "an arch of switchblades made by twenty street gangs."  And once again I stumble over this sentence and do a double-take.  A few chapters ago I laughed when Gris imagined Bawtch's funeral and joked that the old paper-pusher would pass under an arch of pens.  It was silly.  Except something similar has just actually happened, even though a character in the book was admitting how stupid it would be.  Therefore, this world is officially a bad joke.

Anyway, the hitman get stuffed in the Corleone family crypt where "Holy Joe" is already quietly decomposing.  In a nearly-effective moment Babe Corleone sobs that she's "losing all her boys," which would be a little more tragic if said boys weren't unrepentant murderers or crime lords.  She pulls herself together, mentions that she's heard how "Jerome" is interested in racecars, and asks him to promise her not to put himself in danger.

Heller thinks about this for a moment and politely declines.  But Babe reconsiders and says "Good," making him promise to kill Gunsalmo Silva if he ever encounters him.  And the book's hero instantly agrees to perform a mob hit on behalf of the head of an organized crime syndicate.  I guess it could be satire about how literary protagonists can be emotionless murder machines, were it not for the fact the the author's previous work featured a hero who wiped out an entire species without remorse.

Gris meanwhile is profoundly moved by the gloominess and solemn spectacle of the funeral, so much so that he begins to fantasize about Utanc sobbing at his tombstone.  He lies down to dream deeply Emo dreams but finds a note in his pillow, voicing disapproval at his slacking and promising to "terminate" him unless he handles Heller.  Drowning in angst, Gris simply turns the note over and writes "Go ahead" on the back, puts aside all his weapons, and sets out for a dusklit walk, hoping a bullet will end his miserable existence with every step.  Maybe then Utanc will realize what a prize she's throwing away, huh?

And good grief would it make me happy for Gris' wishes to come true, but unfortunately this whole thing is written in the past tense with the framing device that Gris is confessing his crimes in a prison after the story's events have ended.  So there's no chance that he'll actually die and give this story a sudden happy ending, removing any bit of drama or tension from this chapter. 

Interesting note: the only time the deceased is given his full title of Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty is in Gris' narration at the chapter's start.  Everyone at the funeral just calls him Jimmy or Jimmy Tavilnasty.  Even though in the rest of the series he's always at least Jimmy "The Gutter."  My brain.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part Twenty-Five, Chapter One - Women Like Being Dirty and Cooking Things, Right?

Well, last Part was kind of a waste of time, but now we have a fresh start.  Maybe this cumbersome, ill-conceived narrative will start to go somewhere after chapters of dead ends and pointless side plots and-

I was planning a nice, quiet hunting trip.  I had bought a Franchi Deluxe Automatic Shotgun during my last visit--twelve-gauge, thirty-two-inch barrel, full choke, three-inch magnum loads, five-shot magazine.  I had never fired it.  With No. 00 buckshot, each one .33 inches in diameter, it was the very thing for songbirds.

Or not.

Believe it or not, this is still about Gris getting back in Utanc's good graces.  Since she's such a primitive girl, Gris hopes to appeal to her primeval nature by taking her out into nature and dragging an animal carcass (or dead canaries) back to camp for her to cook.  "In my Earth psychology textbooks, it is called atavism.  Everybody is a caveman, even though Freud passed a law against it, and gets thrown back to primitive instincts like any other beast or animal."

Again with the author's rage at humans being treated as animals, as if any mere beast could pen an epic as grand as Mission Earth.

So Gris writes a note inviting Utanc to boil songbirds out in the Turkish boonies and slips it under her door.  Seconds later said door blasts open amid a hail of potted plants and mirrors to reveal a livid Utanc.

In pure venom her words lashed out, "You dirty (bleepard)!  It's not enough to ruin forever a beautiful boy!  Now, (bleep) you, you want to kill SONGBIRDS!"

And so Gris flees the scene before he's hit by more furniture, amazed that she's still angry about that vicious bit of child abuse.  Women, am I right, guys?

On the bright side, as irrelevant as this short, sad chapter is, it at least aborts Gris' attempt to further waste our time with a repeat of that hunting trip in book one.  Now, with all his other options expended, he'll be forced to reluctantly return to the main plot of this friggin' series.

If nothing else, we can look forward to another lecture on cooky alien natural philosophy in the chapter after next.  But first, a funeral.

Back to Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Five

Friday, May 11, 2012

Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Five - Even the Technician Forgot to RTFM

After saying "GOOD BYE GUNSALMO SILVA!" last chapter, Gris turns his attention to the hypno-helmet that failed to do his bidding.  Not only does the one he tried to use on Silva again fail to activate, but when he tests the others he finds that every single helmet has inexplicably stopped working.  Fearing for his "roseate dreams of controlling everybody on this planet with hypnotism," Gris takes the drastic measure of reading the fine print on the boxes of those Mutual-Proximity Breaker Switches.

Turns out Flip the Technician didn't consider the devices' range when he came up with the plan to shut off the helmets.  According to the box the doodads have an effective range of two miles, so none of the helmets will work if he's anywhere nearby to use them.  He gives up on working out a way to remotely trigger one and decides not to get the proximity switch taken out of his head because Nurse Bildirjin is insane.  He doesn't even consider getting someone to undo Flip's work on the helmets, though if he had he'd probably freak out about them being able to be used against him again.

He consoles himself with the thought that the Countess Krak won't be able to use a helmet on him ever again, forgetting that he's only disabled the eighteen helmets he had modified, so he's still screwed if she decides to bring her own equipment.  Gris also congratulates himself for taking care of Heller.  See, since the Countess Krak is coming here, he assumes that Heller's about to "get his brains bashed in."

Yes, Countess Krak - the psychotic Apparatus training lady that Gris is not only terrified of, but has no way of controlling, the woman who plans to wed Jettero Heller when all this Mission Earth crap is over, a person who despises Gris and views him as a threat - this Countess Krak is going to be the instrument of Heller's demise, based purely on Gris' understanding of jealousy and female behavior.  She's going to learn he's been rooming in a whorehouse and immediately murder him. 

Even though this is stupid even for him, Gris is so pleased with these "accomplishments" that he's considering a nap, or maybe a hunting trip. 

On reflection, Part Twenty-Four was about hypno-helmets that don't work and an assassin who was never a threat to begin with, so aside from the foreshadowing that Utanc is a Soviet agent or something I'd have to put the last thirty pages down as a complete waste of time.  It takes Gris sections like these to make the reader look forward to the stuff with Heller. 

Back to Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Four

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Four - A Fear So Great It Can Only Be Expressed In All Caps

I guess if I had to summarize this big-ass chapter it'd be "Gris continues to ignore facts being waved in his face."

Everyone Gris meets on his way to bed asks if he's been beat up, and when he wakes up the next morning his hair is caked with blood.  "It called for extreme measures.  I took a shower."  This is of course satire of the intelligence community's legendarily poor hygiene. 

After an Authentic Turkish Breakfast so Hubbard can show off his familiarity with foreign cuisine, Gris stunned to see Utanc leaving the house in her BMW, and in the passenger seat next to her is GUNSALMO SILVA!  Karagoz the housekeeper wanders by and casually mentions how Utanc hired GUNSALMO SILVA! as her bodyguard after getting spooked by some strange men hanging around town.  The poor little mobster was broke and surviving on handouts from the villa staff, so it's nice that he has a job.  Gris is of course scared speechless and concludes that everyone's conspiring against him.

Moments later, Utanc drives back up after an extremely short car ride and returns to her room without so much as glancing at Gris.  But GUNSALMO SILVA! freezes halfway through disembarking, staring intently at Gris, "leopard" in hand.  Gris is of course unarmed and frozen in terror of this Apparatus-trained super-soldier.  Silva slowly advances on him, "squat, muscular, very Sicilian, terrible," stops, scratches his head with the barrel of his sawn-off shotgun, and asks if he's seen Gris somewhere before.

He frowned harder.  Then his face brightened up to a dark cloud.  "Oh, I know.  It's that God (bleeped)

Okay, gotta rant about this again.  Gris getting his head sawed open without any painkillers?  Fine.  Gris' evenings with his sex slave?  Acceptable.  Heller tearing people's faces off with his metal cleats?  Quality entertainment.  But curse words?  Good heavens, let's spare those poor robotbrain translators' delicate sensibilities and censor such offensive language!  What the hell, Hubbard?

I mean, if the bastards are Three Laws compliant they ought to be freaking out from all the murder going on...

He frowned harder. Then his face brightened up to a dark cloud. "Oh, I know. It's that God (bleeped) nightmare I get. You're the guy in it! I'm standing there in a barn full of flying saucers!"

Silva looked me up and down and nodded. "Well, that clears that up."

You're confused.  You know something's not right, but the problem keeps slipping away between your fingers when you try to grab hold of it.  You're not sure how you got here, and one of the first things that happened when you found yourself here was an attempt on your life.  You have a strange compulsion to do certain things, and you don't know why.  You can feel that you're thinking differently than you were before whatever made you like this.  And then there's a recurring nightmare, where you find yourself in a place that couldn't possibly be real, next to a strange face you see every night.  Then one day, you find that face in the waking world.

And you say to yourself "oh, well, that clears that up."

Silva asks to talk to Gris somewhere private, and Gris takes him to his room, where the guns are.  He makes pleasant conversation by asking why Silva isn't, you know, dead, leading to two pages of (bleeped) exposition about that (bleeped) murder attempt the other night.  Long story short, Silva woke up while being lugged into the hotel room, rolled up the blankets to make a dummy under the sheets, and hid under the bed when Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty came in.  Jimmy stiletto'd the hell out of the blanket, utterly destroying his reputation as a serious hit man, and Silva grabbed the shotgun Jimmy was wearing and blew off Jimmy's left leg, then his crotch.  Police show up, consul gets involved and takes Silva's money, and now he's Utanc's bodyguard.

At no point does Silva wonder why he suddenly found himself being hauled into a hotel room.  Instead he explains "I somehow feel I'm a lot smarter about business these days.  I seem to know what to do just like that."  Which is why he wanted to talk with Gris.

Gris interrupts by suggesting that in this rough country, a bodyguard could really use a helmet.  Silva doesn't react as Gris plops a hypno-helmet on his head and flips the switch... and then he continues to not react, he doesn't look dazed or anything.  Silva calmly remarks that he doesn't need any headgear and takes the thing off, and I have to admire his restraint after getting hit by some unwanted haberdashery.  Instead he explains that he's got this "strange idea" to report to the "God (bleeped) head man in Turkey" for instructions, who is of course Gris.

See, though he's working for Utanc, he has that feeling that it isn't what he should be doing.  Then Silva spends a page talking about his drives with Utanc and reveals that not only does she speak English and uses lots of big words he has trouble understanding, but she's worried about the "foreign intruders" working for the CIA and did a price check for a hit against them.  And Gris pretty much ignores these surprising revelations about his "Poor little wild desert girl," because my god is he an idiot.

Now, Gris has figured out that Silva seems to be looking for orders from him.  He's got an Apparatus-trained hitman at his disposal, a threat he spent the last couple of chapters soiling himself over.  So you can probably guess he's going to completely waste this opportunity. 

Utanc was talking about a hit on the local US consul, but Gris suggests something farther away, a proper suicide mission for Silva.  The president is probably asking too much ("Hell, I don't want to be no hero like Oswald"), so instead Gris suggests assassinating the director of the CIA.  Silva thinks it over, agrees, and Gris sends him off, promising money, ammo, and a plane ticket to the States in the morning.

Yes, now the threat that turned out not to be a threat in the first place has been neutralized.  Gris is both wasting an asset his superiors trained and sent to him and removing a potential rival to his beloved Utanc's affections.  He shakes Silva's hand and sends him to what he hopes to be his death.

"Good luck," I said fervently.  But I did not say good luck to whom.

There's usually about one sentence per page that makes me wonder if this novel was awkwardly translated from another language.

So basically this latest plotline - Silva as a threatening hitman - could have been resolved if Gris had sent a servant to ask the strange man what he was doing on their front yard.  Instead of fleeing the scene and hurriedly slapping together a plan involving mind control helmets and surgical implants and wasting the reader's time for four chapters.  Then again, if we cut all this filler crap and the Parts that turned out to go nowhere, we might get Mission Earth down to a trilogy, four books tops.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Three - Surgery and Statutory Rape

Gris writes and stamps a note, grabs his gun in case he runs into the man who he's assumed is trying to kill him, and races to Faht Bey's office to call The Rarely Named Taxi Driver, I guess because Gris' villainous lair doesn't have a land line.  Faht Bey takes the opportunity to mention that those mysterious heroin thefts are continuing, and complains that since the arrival of "Inspector General Overlord" Gris the base has been running at a loss.  Gris is utterly apathetic and puts Bey at the top of his "to be hypnotized" list. 

You can't help but be impressed that in just a few weeks Gris has managed to run the base into the ground despite spending days at a time in his room watching TV, simply through negligence and his "mob hospital" scheme. If he goes on to inadvertently bring about the end of the Voltarian Confederacy and the extinction of his race, Terl might have some competition.

It's ten at night when Taxi Driver takes Gris to the hospital.  The Apparatus agent pushes his way into Dr. Prahd's bedroom, where the physician and Nurse Bildirjin evidently "had been halfway through something.  They seemed to be under a bit of a strain."  I can't tell if Gris is being wry here or suddenly naive.  He watches while they get out of bed and dressed, noting that the nurse "didn't have much in the way of breasts, being maybe fifteen."

I... guess this is better than Gris leering at her, right?  Sure, he's not averting his eyes or anything, much less noting that doctor-nurse affairs are even less appropriate when one of the parties is underage.  But at least he's keeping his mind on business.

But Hubbard, why?  Why couldn't the nurse be eighteen?  Why can't we have a character who isn't a murderer, sex offender, or crook?  What does this bring to the story besides ickiness?  Did you think we needed more?  Or was this supposed to titillate? (editor's note from the future: just wait a few books until Teenie shows up, good grief...)

Gris shows Prahd the note he whipped up last page, ordering him to be "bugged" and signed by "The Powers Above."  Gris wants that proximity sensor that'll shut off the hypno-helmets to be implanted in the top of his skull.  Not slipped beneath the skin.  Not hidden under some make-up.  He wants the top of his head taken off. 

So late-night surgery it is.  A still-angry and still-three-years-from-legal Nurse Bildirjin helps prep the operating room, then with fearsome teenage strength she flings Gris down and straps him to the table.  And instead of being startled or frightened, Gris suddenly decides that he doesn't want to risk being unconscious during the procedure and asks for just a local anesthetic.  Unfortunately for him, the nurse insists that the only bottle of Novocaine around is empty, and there aren't any pharmacies open this late.  She is nice enough to jam a roll of bandages in his mouth as a gag, though.

And it's all downhill from here.

Nurse Bildirjin climbs up onto Gris' chest, pinning him down with her bony knees and holding his head steady with sharp fingernails.  She also hikes up her skirt to expose her thighs, bringing this "big humorous tale of interstellar intrigue" (Roger Zelazny) uncomfortably close to torture-porn.  The nurse lectures Gris that "young girls have tender feelings" and "it's not a good idea to go interrupting things right in the middle" as Prahd goes to work.

If you ever wondered what unanesthetized surgery feels like, Gris can clue you in:

  • Getting your scalp sliced open: "It stung like mad!"
  • Having a chunk of your skull dug out: "FLASH!  Pain went through me like a javelin!  Worse!"
  • A drill being stuck into your head: "YEEOW!  The noise of it going into my skull was almost as bad as the living agony!  The room spun!"
  • A tiny bug being roughly inserted into a freshly-excavated cranial cavity: "YEEOW!  YEEOW!  YEEOW!"

He actually passes out while getting drilled, but wakes up for Prahd to verify what he wants put in his head.  Once it's in, Prahd spreads some freshly-cultured bone cells from a test tube into the wound like putty, tugs Gris' scalp down to cover it, and uses a Space Flashlight to burn the wound closed, all while the nurse reminds him "You don't stop young girls halfway.  You go right on and let them finish!  Young girls have tender feelings, and don't you forget it!"

So remember folks, if you catch a med school graduate boinking a girl who isn't old enough to drive, just give them a friendly wave and let them carry on.  Thanks, Hubbard!

Gris is released but is less than receptive when Dr. Prahd asks if his pay starts yet.  As he staggers out he hears the nurse walking with Prahd back to their bedroom, unbuttoning her uniform.  "Oh, I just love practicing medicine, don't you, doctor?  It's SO stimulating!"  So she's not only precociously prematurely promiscuous, but also a sadist who enjoys the screams of men being operated on with power tools.  At least she fits in with the rest of the cast now.

And now, the punchline:

I didn't know if I'd been (bleeped) or operated on!

Now I'm neither a sexologist nor a surgeon, but I've studied this problem as best I can, and have come up with these helpful guidelines:

  • If you're feeling relaxed, satisfied, and pleasantly tired, you've probably been (bleeped).
  • If you're in agonizing pain and have a freshly-sealed wound in your skull, you've probably been operated on.

Hope that assists anyone having trouble telling the difference between getting laid and invasive surgery.

Back to Chapter Two 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Part Twenty-Four, Chapter Two - Flip the Wiggo

This is quite the technical chapter, which means I get to condense the hell out of it.

Gris calls up a technician named Flip of the planet Wiggo, and before we start snickering we should remember that this was written thirty years ago.  This Flip fella has amazing hair that stands up "in two spirals, like twin antennae."  And believe it or not I think this could lead to a plot hole.

Though Flip is summoned to fix a broken alarm, Gris explains the real situation as best he can, which takes Flip three paragraphs to wrap his head around.  He wants a way for those hypno-helmets to work on some people but not others, or more specifically for a certain someone to disable a helmet while wearing it.  Though Gris' first plan was for him to install some sort of kill-switch he could flip by wiggling his ears, Flip has a better idea  There are devices called "mutual proximity breaker-switch[es]" used to keep spaceships from colliding - when the sensors get too close they trigger the ships' engines to send them in different directions.  And luckily the little doodads are made from "mini-micro circuitry components" courtesy of Yippee-Zip Manufacturing Company, so they're easy to hide.

Gris has Flip get to work, rigging all those hypno-helmets with one kind of device, so if Gris has the other hidden in his hair or something the helmets will appear to be working, but won't.  And Gris, showing unusual restraint, quietly fixes a hypno-strip for Flip.  When the technician is finished Gris decides to "test" his work but doesn't add the neutralizing circuits to Flip's head, so he gets hypnotized into thinking he was working on a faulty alarm system the entire time.

But what about his hair?  Won't Flip notice that his glorious hair-antennae are crushed?  Almost as though he was wearing some heavy headgear?  But why wouldn't he have a memory of such a thing, unless... he was hypnotized! 

This is probably an example of how a frivolous, thoughtless detail can cause unforeseen plot problems.  Gris certainly doesn't have any difficulty getting the hat on Flip's head and doesn't mention what doing so does to his hair-antennae, so Hubbard likely just forgot what he wrote two pages ago.  But if later Flip does start acting suspicious towards Gris, I'll be genuinely impressed.

Anyway, the chapter ends with Gris basking in his cleverness and how soon he'll be unstoppable, so of course his plans are doomed to failure.  After all, Soltan Gris isn't just a villain, he's a Hubbard Villain, that potent combination of arrogance and breathtaking stupidity that renders the hero's victory inevitable before the end of Act One.  More to the point, he's working with a technician who, though familiar with those "mutual proximity breaker-switches," has forgotten one crucial aspect of how they operate.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, May 7, 2012

Part Twenty-Four, Chapter One - Gris' Brain Goes Topsy-Turvy

The next Part kicks off with the line "For some reason, possibly understandable, I wanted to see the Blixo unquestionably gone," and it sets a good standard for how scatter-brained this chapter is.

Gris spends the next day wearing his arm out stamping the pile of paperwork that came with the Freighter of Bad News, and that night the ship in question does depart with a freshly-blackmailed Too-Too aboard.  And believe it or not, there's a flicker of not-suck when Gris' mind wanders to the fate of the soon-to-be-poisoned Bawtch. "In another few weeks they would give him a nonmilitary funeral--probably the coffin would be carried between two lines of clerks making an arch with pens, and his tombstone would read STAMP HERE."  It's a bit of silliness, some genuine humor instead of deranged, rancorous "satire."

But the next morning Gris has a surprise waiting for him when he glances out at his front lawn.

I froze!

Sitting on the grass!  Sitting on the grass, tossing an object into the air and catching it!  Sitting on the grass was GUNSALMO SILVA!

I flinched back!

My whole world went topsy-turvy!

What was HE doing here?  HE was supposed to be DEAD!

Holy crap, guys!  That character who made a cameo two books ago and then returned for a chapter or two in this book isn't DEAD!  HE is still alive!  We were completely fooled by the vague and inconclusive circumstances of his supposed "death!"

Gris immediately concludes that Silva knows about getting set up and has come to kill him, flees to his room, then runs down the secret passage to Faht Bey's office.  The other Apparatus agent explains that it was indeed Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty who was slain the other night, and after some wrangling between the Apparatus, the American consul, and the Turkish police, Silva was released since it was determined he'd acted in self-defense.  And now he is apparently picnicking on Gris' yard, but that isn't Faht Bey's problem.

So Gris flees back to his room, again, to come up with a plan.  "Splattering" Silva with a shotgun of Gris' own isn't an option, as it'd leave too much evidence - yes, the Apparatus that controls Turkey can't get away with a "hunting accident," just roll with it.  But then Gris remembers that Silva has been hypnotrained in the deadly arts of the Apparatus - yes, the same Apparatus that has been so achingly incompetent for the last two books, just roll with it.  And it's good that Gris remembered that little detail, because I sure as hell didn't.

And then Gris remembers that he happens to have over a dozen hypno-helmets of his own.  If he had some guards hit Silva with a paralysis dart, Gris could use a helmet to undo the Apparatus training!  The training that Gris' bosses probably did for a reason.  To save Gris from a threat that might be entirely imagined.  And of course, if you could dart Silva, you wouldn't need to hypnotize him, you could just drag him somewhere and "disappear" the goon.

With this new plan of action, Gris decides to reflect on what he knows about hypnotism, a chapter after gushing about the psychological art of mind-bending.  Turns out he doesn't know all that much about the subject, other than that psychologists are the masters of it and use it to pick up chicks.  Gris is disappointed to drag out a textbook and learn that hypnotism has in fact fallen out of favor because only about a fifth of the population is actually susceptible to it, and those damn psychologists are gunning for 100% domination.

It was a sad blow.  Even if I mastered spinning spirals in front of Utanc's face or got her to look at a swinging bright object, she might be one of the 78 percent.  And I doubted I could make her stand still that long.

So that stuff from the last chapter?  Whoops, Gris didn't know what he was talking about.  The book's viewpoint character, a pivotal vehicle for the author's "satire" of psychology, is stupid and misinformed.  Well, we all knew that, but now the book is admitting it.  And yet he's still right, because everything and everyone else in the book is reinforcing the notion of psychologists as godless, mind-raping quacks who nevertheless control the world.  

Gris suddenly remembers - again - that he has the much more reliable hypno-helmet to work with.  He opens a user's manual (after successfully using the device on Too-Too the other night) and learns how one can be used to enhance training, modify memories, or mess with emotions, all exposition three books after the object in question has been introduced.  By simulating a "sleep wave" the helmet puts the subject into a trance state, then a "thought wave" is used to introduce ideas that the victim's brain thinks originated from itself.  Nothing as crude as mere electrical pulses, no, this is pure thought energy!

And then Gris "suddenly, with a wave of horror" remembers oh yeah, he got put under one of those helmets two books ago and threw up whenever he thought of Heller in physical danger.  I remember that at least, it was a subplot that went on and on.

And then Gris proceeds to run around like a headless chicken.

I dropped the manual as though it were spouting fire!

Those helmets were DANGEROUS!

I had ordered Krak to arrive.

Supposing she put another helmet on me!

The thought was so awful that I almost ran out of the room to get away from the helmets.

I checked myself in time. I must not go onto the front lawn!

Because Silva's still waiting there playing catch with his sawed-off shotgun.  If he isn't stalking Gris for a hit, just what is he still doing there?

So Gris decides that those helmets need to be destroyed, but then he remembers that he could use them to his own advantage: he could turn the working staff into willing slaves, even make Utanc love him again!  Oh, and deprogram Silva the kill-machine.  He works up the courage to inspect one of the devices again and sees that the "on" light is glowing.

Wait!  That light was not part of the mind-wave circuit.


I would be able to get out of this room through the yard, seduce all the girls I wanted, make people bow to me and make Utanc love me with devotion!

With no risk to myself!

From imagined death threats to winning back his girlfriend (whom he purchased).

Here's a random little tidbit - when Gris describes Silva's sawn-off shotgun he notes that he thinks they're called "leopards" by US gangsters.  I checked Wikipedia to verify this and learned that "lupara" is an Italian term for a short-barreled boomstick.  It means "for the wolf," but it'd be easy for some American thug to mangle the term into "leopard," so this seems plausible.  And now you know.

Back to Part Twenty-Three, Chapter Nine