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

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