Friday, June 29, 2012

Intermission - A Whole Lot of Nothing

While I wait for my copy of An Alien Affair to come in, I guess it's as good a time as any to reflect on just how bad The Enemy Within was.

To start with there's the title.  Mission Earth was chopped up into a "dekalogy" after Hubbard finished writing it, and from the sounds of it the titles were chosen almost as an afterthought.  They're so spectacularly generic - Fortune of FearDeath Quest, Voyage of Vengeance - meaningless "action" words like the title of a direct-to-video action flick.  Who or what is The Enemy Within referring to?  Gris?  Madison?  Utanc?  There's really no point in speculating because the question is never raised in the story itself, there's no subplot as Gris tries to ferret out a traitor or anything.  So the title has little to do with the book it's gracing.

Not that it'd be easy to give the book a more accurate title.  My Turkish Belly-Dancer?  New Fuels and Bad News?  Or... um...

Which brings me to my next point: nothing actually happens in this 424-page book.  Or to rephrase that, very little happens that is obviously important to the plot.  So much of the book is spent on Utanc, who has nothing to do with Heller's attempts to revitalize Earth's energy industry or Gris' mission to stop him.  Obviously she's being set up as something more than a dancing girl, though all that means is that we get to spend chapter after chapter yelling at Gris' stupidity for not noticing all those unsubtle hints.  Then there's stuff like Gris spending a Part playing with hypno-helmets, or his misguided attempt to kill Heller by sending for his girlfriend - they're probably going to have a more direct impact than Utanc, but not for a while.

There's no pay-off for all those little subplots.  Anyone who's encountered Battlefield Earth knows that Hubbard is terrible at pacing, and Mission Earth as a narrative is even more bloated - it took him 616 pages just to get off Voltar, after all.  Which means when you arbitrarily chop it into ten novels you run the risk of one or more volumes containing nothing but foreshadowing or lead-ups for plot points that won't come into play for hundreds of pages.  Some relevant things happen in this book (towards the end), such as Gris forging an alliance with Rockecenter and Madison hyping Heller and setting up the race that will kick off the next book, but again they don't have a pay-off either.  There's no traditional three-part structure, no climax or denouement or anything, nothing to reward the reader for finishing the book, just an order to buy the next volume in hopes of getting some closure.

It'd be nice to say that it's about the journey, not the destination, but the problem with that is how The Enemy Within's "journey" spends hundred of pages sitting in the driveway while the driver messes with his cellphone, or goes back and forth to the grocery store without accomplishing anything because they were out of Pringles.  Not only does little of importance happen, but the unimportant stuff isn't fun to read either.  Gris' "love story" with Utanc certainly isn't one of the great romances of the 20th century, the closest thing to an action sequence is the ridiculous recruitment of Madison, there's nothing particularly funny about Hubbard's attempts at humor, and the book even falls flat as a spy thriller because Gris is so achingly awful at his job.  Making matters worse is the fact that Gris is the story's narrator, meaning we get to spend hundreds of pages with a stupid, murderous, petty, and thoroughly unpleasant character while the aforementioned nothing is happening. 

You could try and read the book for its satire, but that's a thorny issue I'll have to spend more time developing later.  The immediate problem is that Hubbard's satire doesn't really matter, as a result of his lousy worldbuilding.  Mission Earth is supposed to take place in a world manipulated by psychologists and all that, but except where Hubbard is deliberately donning his Satire Hat, the setting is hard to differentiate from the present day (of the 1980s, due to the dated phone and information technology).  Characters are certainly happy to tell us how those nasty psychologists control everything, but you wouldn't know it were it not for the chapter where Heller gets his head examined or an off-hand comment or two in other places.  Hubbard doesn't spend a lot of time satirizing society at all, instead focusing on Gris' efforts as an alien secret agent, which as previously mentioned aren't effective either.

Which leaves us with... well, nothing really.  Just a weary resignation as we pick up the next book.  The Enemy Within isn't a real story, after all, just another chapter in the sage of Mission Earth, a saga that unfortunately is just beginning.

Back to Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Nine

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Nine - Countdown to Race Day

It starts to snow on Wednesday, and again, it would help the reader to care about this if we knew when the race was starting.  Turns out it's on Saturday, but if this fact is related to us prior to this chapter I can't find it.

Gris prepares by renting a van with a bunk and space heater so he can camp the raceway.  Meanwhile more details come out about the race - since it's both an endurance trial and a demolition derby, not only are there going to be standard stock cars competing with Heller, there will be "bomber" cars (Wikipedia doesn't recognize the term), vehicles with their glass removed and roll bars added for safety, so their drivers can focus on smashing into other machines.

The Apparatus agent looks this information up by consulting a Teletext system in the hotel lobby.  From the sounds of it this service never caught on in the USA even when Hubbard was alive, and is mainly active in the UK.  This combined with Gris 'use of "lorry" makes me wonder where he, and by extension Hubbard, picked up these British-isms. 

Madison's media blitzkrieg continues, with the Not At All a Body Double of Heller making appearances on talk shows and interviews, striking up fierce rivalries with the "bomber" drivers and making statements that he'll lick the oil companies despite the odds against him.  Meanwhile the real Heller is working hard in his room, and of course Gris frequently misses out on what he's doing thanks to that miraculous interference in the Gracious Palms.

On Friday the snow keeps coming and the race's victory conditions are set: whichever car does a thousand laps under its own power wins, and in Heller's case he'd have to do it without refueling.  The president of the United States makes a statement reaffirming his faith in the Whiz Kid and by extension the youth of America.  Gris' snipers get into position with their white cloaks and silenced rifles, while Gris himself beats the Saturday crowds by parking his van on a front yard with a commanding view of the racetrack.

In complete comfort, smug and confident, I lay down on the van's bunk, the viewer buzzer set to alert me if Heller stirred.

What a beautiful victory this would be--for me.

And typically, no mention of what Utanc is up to, even after all the chapters of the book wasted introducing her.  Still, at least the plot is finally moving and things are happening that are more significant than, oh, anything involving Utanc, or Gris having a nervous breakdown over a hitman that he thinks is out to get him, or that nonsense with the hypno-helmets.  It took The Enemy Within over 420 pages, but we've finally gotten to something that wouldn't be cut in a film adaptation.  So let's see

Can Heller escape 17 bomber drivers and two hidden snipers?
Does he die?  Lose?  Win?

Volume 4

Yep.  Here's one of those "cliffhangers" Hubbard advised his poor editors to use as stopping points when they chopped Mission Earth into a "dekalogy."  Just when things start happening, the book stops.

So, can Heller escape 17 bomber drivers and two hidden snipers?  And thwart whatever half-baked plan Madison already has in place?  Can he do all that while dealing with the snow and ice from the winter weather?  And to raise the odds, will he survive if we have him juggling chainsaws while driving with his knees?  Let's light his car on fire too, just to make this more of a circus act.

"Does he die?"  Of course he doesn't!  At the start of the book the stupid framing device assures us that Heller's still alive and at large while Gris is in jail composing his "confession."  A reader who'd actually worry about if Heller was going to make it or not would have to be unable to read the book in the first place!

Does he lose or win?  I'm going to go out on a limb and say "win," or at worst "lose in a way that allows him to overcome the odds and have a more dramatic victory later."  Because there's still six books left in this series.  This is obviously not the end of the story, and it's insulting to the reader to suggest otherwise.

Crap, there's still six books left in this series.

Crap, there's seven books left in this series.  It's the end of Book 3 and I'm already losing my ability to count.

Back to Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Eight

Monday, June 25, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Eight - Gris Suddenly, In a Flash, Understands

It's Monday morning.  If I knew when the big race was, this might be significant.

Gris is watching Heller go around to various tire stores, concerned because nobody here (on this planet) can make them right.  He's still concerned about throwing a tire like that day on the track with Madison's news crew.  Mentioning this to Bang-Bang gives Gris another one of his sudden revelations.

Suddenly, in a flash, I understood.  That (bleeped) Madison!  That first day he had had a sniper posted somewhere so he could get a shot of Heller having a near accident!  I knew it, just like that.

Just like that.  Sometimes, Gris suddenly knows things.  Other times he does or thinks things for reasons he can't explain.  Certain characters are sensitive to, if not victims of, cosmic forces beyond their ken.  In Gris' case this force is Plot.

Now that a tangentially-related conversation several days after the incident has reminded him, Gris goes back over his records of the tire-throwing event.

I verified it.  I got the strip of it.  I turned the sound volume way, way up.  I played it through.  What a roar!  Screaming rubber.  Aha!  A distant bang!  It was a second after the blowout itself.  Must mean that sniper had been three hundred yards or so away!

So Gris' recording equipment can pick up the echo of a sniper rifle shot during the noise of a car spinning out of control, but couldn't do the same to a conversation held in an adjacent room during Heller's trip to the FBI headquarters last book?  Also, he still has recordings of Heller at the race track that one day, but no footage of Heller using his platen to write that letter?

That (bleeped) Madison might use snipers in the race itself.  If so, how many snipers would Madison have in addition to my two?  Or was that Madison's plan?  One couldn't tell.

The snipers are all going to shoot each other, aren't they?

In a way, it was a relief.  Heller didn't suspect that was what was wrong.  But in another way, it might make Heller dream up something to prevent blowouts.  The whole thing made me quite nervous.

Relieved, but nervous.

Back on the HellerVision, Our Hero comments on the weather, and how he fears a cold front will complicate the upcoming race with some snow or slush on the track.  He gives Bang-Bang the straight-faced suggestion to go north and hire some sled dogs to pull his car around the track in a worst-case scenario, then casts asides his concerns and resolves to think of something before race day.

And that was exactly what I was afraid of.  Now I had two unknowns.  What was Madison really going to do?  


And what was Heller going to do?

I only knew what I was going to do--stop the Hells out of him!

So one of these unknowns only exists because Gris can't ask his associate a simple question, and the other will no doubt be revealed through further study of the HellerVision.  But try to be tense and interested regardless.

Back to Chapter Seven

Friday, June 22, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Seven - Please Don't Make Book On My Behalf

It is a smug Gris that continues to watch the HellerVision in the days leading up to the fateful race.  There is one niggling detail troubling him, however...

The only small worry was that he might get totally killed, for there would go my platen.  However, a nice trip to the hospital, maybe with several broken bones and his handsome face smashed in, would do very well.  And the wreckage of his reputation on Earth was infinitely acceptable.

So while it's possible that Gris' plan might accidentally kill Heller, making Mission Earth a failure, bringing unwanted attention to the Apparatus' activities on Earth, foiling Lombar's scheme, and ending with Gris being tortured to death for his treason/stupidity, it might not, and Gris considers Heller getting humiliated a goal worth that risk.  Gotta admire his optimism.

Questions of theology are once again raised and ignored as Gris reports that Heller has been accompanying his mobster friends to Mass, "probably on the theory that when you are on a primitive planet you include its Gods in your acquaintances."  Since Gris doesn't dismiss our puny Earth gods out of hand this would seem to suggest a polytheistic outlook among Voltarians, though as always this is mere guesswork because Hubbard can't be arsed to develop his alien society beyond naming the bad guys' group the Coordinated Information Apparatus and grinning at his biting satire.  Also, Heller has taken to responding to prayers in Voltarian instead of Latin, which of course raises no questions or comments from his non-alien companions.

Most of the chapter takes place at Babe Corleone's birthday party... well, technically I guess it takes place in Gris' suite as he watches Babe Corleone's birthday party through the miracle of HellerVision.  It's a restrained, private affair, but Heller steals the show by gifting Babe a painting based on the vintage portrait of "Holy Joe" Corleone recovered from that speakeasy roadhouse, set in a heart-shaped frame with a lion's head at the top.  Gris helpfully explains that Corleone means "heart of the lion."  Babe oohs and aahs and show it off to the other guests, and then has a chat with Heller.

She advises "Wister" to drive "slowly and safely" on race day, and suggests that he try to stay out of the cameras, since he never looks quite right in all those photos and interviews she's seeing on the TV.  But when she mentions that everyone will be betting on him, Heller emphatically asks the mob family to promise not to "make book" on him.  Babe is confused, and Gris is suspicious.  "Had my hiring of snipers leaked?  Oh, I'd better double-check everything to make sure he didn't somehow turn the tables on me."

"Double-check" in this sense meaning "continue to sit on my ass in front of the HellerVision without taking action."  Oh, and no mention of Utanc in this chapter either.

Back to Chapter Six

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Six - Presumably Puerto Rico, But Who Else?

In Hubbard's satirical take on America, there's a talk show called Midnight All Day hosted by someone named Donny Fartson.  Truly this author is as insightful as he is hilarious.

Days pass, the media blitzkrieg goes on, and Whiz Kid fever continues to spread.  The scheduled test drive morphs into a Demolition Derby and Combined Endurance Run pitting Heller against professional racers.  A Whiz Kid video game is sold in drug stores (?), and "If you won, you got to wear glasses" (?!).  Heller installs his alien carburetor, unknowingly bringing it closer to destruction by running it for an hour.  And Utanc is completely absent from the chapter, again begging the question of why in the Nine Hells she was put in the story in the first place.

Gris decides that "Maybe Madison knew something I didn't know," proving that given enough time he will eventually be able to spot the obvious.  Unfortunately Madison is so busy he doesn't even hear Gris' attempts to yell at him.  So instead the Apparatus agent visits Mr. Bury to talk about the "other thing," and after Bury mistakes the subject for two of Rockecenter's mistresses, he admits that while he hasn't the slightest idea of what Madison is up to, he has full confidence in the man's work.

So Gris does the only logical thing: he goes back to Madison's office and patiently waits until the end of the day, then confronts Madison and asks him to sit down and explain what the plan is and how a faulty carburetor doesn't affect - oh, wait, he doesn't do that.  Instead he gets Mr. Bury to give him the address of the Narcotici mob headquarters.

Yes, Gris has decided that since he doesn't know what the plan is (because he hasn't asked) and has concluded that everyone else is incompetent, he's going to bring in a third party to settle things.  He takes a taxi to the (bad) mafia's lair, which is right next to a courthouse, police headquarters and Federal Building.

The splendid sign, Total Control, Inc., fanned above a splendid arch.  The lobby had murals of American flags, depicting its evolution from Betsy Tea--calmly sewing the first flag with a joint in her smiling mouth--and adding star by star the appropriate and applicable drug of the state with charming little frescoes of the events.  Obviously, American history was firmly based on drugs.  The murals stopped with fifty-four stars, which dated the mural.  A group of schoolchildren were on a guided tour but I pushed through them.

Hey, the drugs are back.  They popped up at the beginning of the previous book and were in the background of two scenes in this one, but I guess the implication here is that America's firmly a drug culture with states selecting which mind-altering substances best represents them.  Even though nothing else we've been shown reinforces that.  It's not like we've had clients at the Gracious Palms complaining about the Corleones' "no-drugs" policy, or crowds of red-eyed college students trying to eat their research papers, or Izzy shaking off his cocaine addiction.

Also, I am now more interested in who the four newest members of the United States are than anything else going on in this story.

Gris wants to see Faustino "The Noose" Narcotici and a secretary leads him into what he mistakes for an elevator, only for the girl to push a button and send Gris through a trap door and down a chute.  Gris is a genuine firearms expert, so that even after that rattling experience and having someone shove a gun barrel in his face, he's able to identify the weapon as a Bernadelli Model 80 .380 ACP seven-shot automatic pistol just by looking at it from the wrong end.  Some Sicilian mooks take Gris' pistol, complain about the noob "Fed" not checking his weapon in the coatroom and spooking the secretary when he set off the hidden metal detectors, but when Gris explains that he's here to see the boss and knows Mr. Bury, they send him on his way.

So Gris gets sent upstairs this time, and passes through the place New York's finest citizens gather every Saturday to get their mob pay-offs, "a huge banquet hall decorated with baskets of money and naked brunettes holding them..." what, they just stand around completely starkers all day long?  Past that is Faustino's office and the man himself, someone so fat his eyes are nearly hidden by drooping bags of flesh.

Pleasantries are exchanged, Gris decides to show off his Italian, and after throwing Bury's name around he gets Faustino to loan him a pair of snipers for the race day.  Gris leaves, apologizes to the secretary in the lobby, and discovers that after they took his gun the mafia goons stuck an explosive plug in the barrel that would have taken his hand off if he tried to fire it.  Gris laments that you can't trust the mafia.  "They weren't honest."

On the bright side, now he has a pair of hitmen set to shoot out the tires of Heller's car during the upcoming derby, which will surely discredit and embarrass Heller, or even send him to the hospital!  Yes, everything is fine now that Gris has gone behind his boss' back to "fix" a plan he doesn't know the details of.  I mean, what are the odds that this could backfire horribly, or clash with the other conspirators' plans in a way that leaves Heller the victor?

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Five - A Missed Opportunity, a Long-Forgotten Plot Point, and an Ignored Warning

While in the grips of his confusion-induced depression, Gris realizes that it's now a few days past when Heller ought to have written up and sent in his latest update to Captain Roke on Voltar.  The letter in question was probably mailed directly to the Turkish Apparatus base, but more importantly it means that Gris has squandered another opportunity to learn where Heller keeps the platen used to encode those letters.

If only... if only there were some way to record the data being transmitted from Heller's ocular-aural implants.  If only some sort of device could digitally store those images and sounds, so that Gris could go over them later, and not have to spy on Heller in real time for fear of missing something important.  Oh well.  He's only an alien from an advanced space-faring civilization visiting planet Earth in the 2000-somethings, it's not like he could get his hands on something like that.

Instead of moping about his latest foul-up, Gris mopes about Utanc, as this chapter remembers that she exists, at least for a paragraph or so.  Apparently her only interaction with Gris has been to hand over a pile of packages after one of her many shopping trips, probably confusing him for a bellhop.  Since that thought is also depressing, Gris tries to look on the bright side - if Heller mentions how he's become a media darling in his report, his superiors back on Voltar will probably assume Mission Earth is going along just fine and won't interfere.  "It sort of depended on the way you looked at it."

But then Gris is jarred out of his melancholy by Heller being approached... oh, Gris is watching HellerVision?  But last chapter Gris had his luncheon with Bury, and then another day passed, so... when the hell is it?  Has Gris been watching Heller the whole time and is just now perking up, or what?

Whatever.  While servicing his Cadillac at the raceway one... time of day, he's approached by a plump, yellow-toothed mechanic who introduces himself as Stampi.  The newcomer has a proposal for Heller - publicize his car's next endurance run as a way to both show off his new fuel source/carburetor and make a cool million from ticket sales and TV coverage.  It'll be like a little off-season race, complete with trophy and cash prize for the winner!  A mildly disinterested Heller agrees.  And Gris suddenly remembers that Heller's carburetor has been sabotaged!

It has?

Um... well this is embarrassing, but when did this sabotage happen?  Was it this book?  I remember Utanc arriving, Gris punching that kid, all that nonsense with the hypno-helmets, the mobster hospital, the shopping tour of Europe, and Gris' Colt Python .357 Magnum-.38 Special... oh wait, there was that delivery Gris did with the crates from the Prince Caucalsia.  Yeah, he had a box "disappear."  But reading back through Part Twenty-Two I can't find any instance of Gris sabotaging Heller's carburetor.  Did it happen last book?  And how did Gris manage to forget about an act of sabotage after spending weeks watching Heller put together his plan involving the compromised component in question?

Argh, whatever.  The important thing is that someone at some point sabotaged Heller's carburetor so that it'll clonk out after seven hours of use, and Gris is elated.

I leaped up.  I was in ecstasy!  Brilliant, brilliant Lombar!  He had foreseen it all from the first!

Oh wait, so this sabotage happened back in Book One?!  And it hasn't been mentioned until now, nearly nine hundred pages later?  What astonishing faith you have in your reader's memories, Hubbard!

Anyway, Gris is so excited that he calls up Madison, who is fully aware that Heller's agreed to the race.  But then Gris tries to explain why he's so happy.

"But you don't know the good part!"  I told him.  "His carburetor is sabotaged!  It's going to fail in about seven hours!  He'll

Hang on.  Heller hasn't actually hooked up the carburetor yet.  So it's not going to go off like a time bomb seven hours from now, it'll fail after seven hours of use, yeah?  So unless the race takes that long, Heller is not in fact screwed.

He'll lose for sure!"

"So?" said Madison.

What do you mean "so?"  Heller's.  Being.  Sabotaged.  Gris is telling you that Heller can't win the race.  The race you helped set up, presumably for Heller to win as part of his good publicity.  You should be concerned, or angry, not unimpressed.

"He's all set up to fall on his head!"  I said.  "He can't possibly win that race!"

"Mr. Smith, please forgive my abruptness but I have some very urgent things to do.  We just got the governor of Michigan to be president of the International Whiz Kid Fan Clubs and he's on the other wire.  But when you have important data for me, by all means, phone.  But right now, I'm sorry.  Good-bye."


I sat there gaping.  He was not the least bit interested!  If he was really selling us out, he would be interested.  If he was not selling us out, he would be interested.

There wasn't a way to make heads or tails of it.

By Augustus Caesar's Assless Chaps, I'm in full agreement with Gris.  Last chapter was all about noncommunication, with people expecting other people to know what they wanted without trying to share those expectations, then getting annoyed or afraid when things didn't go as expected.  This chapter has a character outright ignoring critical information.

I guess... well, since Gris Is Always Wrong, Madison must have set things up so the other racers are doomed to fail?  And plans to swap out Heller's experimental carburetor for a more reliable one on race day?  Because the alternative is that Madison's plan has been sunk even though Gris just told him how the plan is in danger. (editor's note from the future: or as we'll see next book, perhaps Madison's plan doesn't care whether Heller wins or loses the race...)

Gris spends the last few sentences of the chapter in a deep funk, surrounded by media coverage of the Whiz Kid and people wearing Whiz Kid buttons or newsstands selling Whiz Kid plushies.

This whole thing was out of control.  I didn't have the least notion of what would happen now.

I do.  Heller will win despite incredible odds, and you'll end up in a jail cell, writing the "confession" that will serve as the body of the Mission Earth books.  It's nice that the story's framing device has effectively robbed it of any drama or uncertainty regarding its ultimate outcome.

On an unrelated note, I'd like to point out that even though this story is set in the 2010's or something, the world's telecommunications technology seems very 1980's-ish.

Back to Chapter Four 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Four - Gris Still Doesn't Understand

Now that Gris has talked Madison out of continuing the plan that Gris didn't understand in favor of the plan Gris didn't explain, the Apparatus agent has a peaceful night's sleep, untroubled with thoughts of where the hell Utanc has run off to, as she hasn't been mentioned for several pages.  In fact she doesn't appear at all during this chapter, on-screen or in Gris' thoughts.  After devoting at least a third of the book to Gris' "girlfriend," Hubbard seems to have forgotten about her.

The next morning Gris comes down with what he assures us is a psychologist-verified disorder called Newspaper Anxiety Syndrome, "responsible for the majority of commitments to mental institutions."  It's a condition where the patient freaks out at the sight of a newspaper.  When Gris sees the headline "WHIZ KID CHALLENGES OIL COMPANIES" he starts shaking so hard he can't even finish the article beneath it.  Yes, all the newspapers are carrying the story of how the Whiz Kid is challenging the Seven Brothers.

Who are these Seven Brothers, you ask?  They're a group of (presumably oil) companies led by Octopus Oil, their eldest member.  Have the Seven Brothers been mentioned at any point before this chapter?  Not to my knowledge, no.  Hell, even Octopus Oil popped up quite suddenly.  Like the characters in these past few chapters, I think the author is assuming that we know things about his setting even though he hasn't actually explained them to us.

Gris calms down a bit after reasoning that obviously there's some momentum to this media campaign and Madison couldn't completely stop it overnight, so he decides to check on his nemesis.  He finds Heller examining the same newspapers, confused and annoyed that he's been quoted for statements he never actually made.  Izzy explains that there's nothing he can do about this, as it's par the course for newspapers in Hubbard's satire of Earth, and suggests that Heller buy a ticket to South America.  Heller declines and goes to drive his car in circles.

Later that day while taking a walk, Gris notices that all the billboards in New York City are boasting of the Whiz Kid taking on the oil companies, and sport caricatures of the bucktoothed hero boxing the Seven Brothers.  On the HellerVision he finds Heller looking at the same thing, though Heller at least has the insight to check the fine print and discover that the billboard is paid for by the Americans for Cheap Fuel Committee.  Gris is of course a trained intelligence agent and therefore completely missed this.

I checked, and Political Action Committees have been around since 1947.  For a moment I was afraid I'd have to give Hubbard credit for accurately predicting future political trends, something almost too horrifying to contemplate.  I certainly wouldn't like to live in a world that Hubbard envisioned, whether it's his idea of a utopia or this dystopian "satirical" setting.

Gris tries and fails to reach Madison and Bury, then turns to the TV, only to find talk show interviews with the Whiz Kid.  The dialogue is dubbed over footage taken from the speedway and the interviewer never appears on the same screen as the Whiz Kid, but it'll probably fool the gullible, wretched masses, even though even Gris is able to figure out that they're fake. 

So that's one Utanc-free day.  The next morning Gris turns on a "housewife program" to see the Whiz Kid, in person, talking with the hostesses about the criminally-high energy prices.  He immediately calls Madison and demands an explanation.  And here we learn why Heller was given a prosthetic jaw and buck teeth and fake glasses - see, any public relations rep knows that you can't trust your client to do what you want and say the right things.  So Madison has a body double to do these appearances.  But because Mr. Bury refused to give Madison any double other than this one with bad eyes and buck teeth and the wrong jawline, and because Bury refused to shell out the cash to make this double actually look like Heller by means of plastic surgery and contact lenses, Madison had to give Heller the props to make him look like the body double who doesn't actually resemble him.

In other words, the villains have given their target a disguise as simple as removing a set of dentures and stage glasses.  So we'll probably get a scene where hit men are sent to kill Heller only to be baffled when they can't find a buck-toothed four-eyed young Jay Leno.  Or if Heller and his Not-Double are in the same place, Heller will pull out his teeth and be exposed as a "fake," allowing him to escape unharmed while something dreadful happens to Madison's minion.

Meanwhile on the HellerVision, the real Whiz Kid (please stand up, please stand up) is complaining about being impersonated, while Izzy explains that hiring a lawyer to stop it would cost millions of dollars, and that he's heard of a lovely place in Brazil where the only thing to worry about are all-consuming hordes of "soldier ants" (he means army ants of course).

Gris finally sets up a meeting with the newly-returned Bury, which takes place at the Jewish deli that sells kosher hot dogs for the sake of pointless continuity.  Gris complains that Madison has turned against them and is using Rockecenter bullion to make Heller into a hero.  Bury agrees and says that everything's going according to plan, what with the political cartoons and falsified biographies and editorials and everything.  He orders Gris to ease up on Madison to avoid upsetting him, leaving Gris utterly stupefied.

And no, Gris never asks for an explanation, an elaboration, or even a hint of what Bury and Madison's plan is.  Instead he'll continue to be confused and bewildered because it's so entertaining listening to page after page of someone complaining about how they don't understand what's going on and how everyone's an idiot except them.


That's another Utanc-free day.  The next morning's headlines are about the Whiz Kid facing death at the hands of the Seven Brothers, and the story uses footage of Heller's skid-out on the track three or four days ago, presenting it as the result of sabotage.  A pit crew has even been invented to be taken in for questioning, while in New York itself mobs of demonstrators have gathered outside Arabian-Manhattan Oil Company to protest the "assassination attempt."  And Gris continues to be confused and bewildered.

Bury liked this?

They all belonged in the psychiatric ward!

I sank into a sodden despair.

Maybe the whole planet ought to be in a psychiatric ward!

So either the entire world is insane or else Gris is an idiot.  Which do you think is the more likely explanation?

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, June 18, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Three - Nobody Knows What's Going On

Gris spends the next two days watching Heller tinker with his modified carburetor, worrying about his enemy's "progress" but not sparing a thought for the dancing girl he dragged along with him to America and who has spent much of the subsequent time on long, unexplained errands.

On the third day, Gris sees Madison drop by to visit Heller, bringing a copy of Chemistry Today to show off the "article" about "Wister," a two-inch square photo (of Heller in glasses and buck teeth) next to a single sentence summation on the bottom of the second to last page.  Madison offers his number if Heller wants any future assistance and leaves.  Gris goes to a newstand to try and get his own copy, but nobody seems to have heard of this Chemistry Today.  How very mysterious!

Gris is a trained intelligence agent but hasn't figured out that maybe Madison might have been less than honest when discussing his reasons for being at the race track the other day.  Maybe that magazine was simply an excuse to have a candid talk with Heller.

The next day, while searching for a Bugs Bunny cartoon in the Daily Fits... trained intelligence agent, remember?  Gris stumbles upon a page two article about a "Whiz Kid" with a revolutionary, even magical, new fuel type.  The freakout continues when he finds similar articles in other major papers, and Heller on the front page of Slime News Weekly.  The next day even out-of-town papers are carrying the story.

The obvious thing to do is grab his Colt Python .357 Magnum-.38 Special and make sure it's fully loaded, then go have a meeting with Madison.  Madison's mom passes on the address of the meeting place, somewhere in New York's west side, and off Gris goes.  The Apparatus agent finds the place guarded by the "reporter" who tried to attack Heller a few days ago, now holding a sawn-off shotgun, which the author continues to call a "leopard."  Before Gris can draw his Colt Python .357 Magnum-.38 Special, Madison spots him and lets him inside

The PR agent's base is a loft "JAMMED" with people, typewriters, and marijuana smoke (the reporters are all getting baked but not Heller's classmates at the university?).  "Birds" are everywhere typing or bustling about with bags of mail.  In a word, "BUSY!"  Gris starts complaining that Madison's making Heller famous, and Madison agrees - he's in public relations, of course he's trying to make Heller famous.

"You know what you were really hired for," I grated.

Um, no, Gris, he doesn't.  In fact, Bury make it quite clear that Madison doesn't and shouldn't realize just how bad a job he does.  That's the whole point of getting him to "help" someone, his well-intentioned but disastrous attempts at promotion are more destructive than any smear campaign.  You were told this a few chapters ago.

He frowned.  He sat down in a rickety chair.  Then he said, "I understand, Mr. Smith.  I will mend my ways.  You'll see tomorrow!"

I went off.  I was glad he'd gotten the point.

Gris departs, satisfied he's averted disaster, his Colt Python .357 Magnum-.38 Special still in its holster.  "A famous Heller was something we DID NOT NEED!"  Why use ITALICS for EMPHASIS when you can CAPITALIZE words?

In summation, Madison has been intentionally left in the dark about what his role is in this whole plan to destroy Heller, but Gris evidently doesn't understand it either.  Not that Bury spent a lot of time planning this scheme beyond "get Heller to hire Madison" or trying to explain it to Gris.

So Madison doesn't know what's going on, Gris doesn't know what's going on, and Bury knows but isn't telling.  And Gris has just tried to switch Madison from Bury's plan (which he doesn't know about) to Gris' plan (which he doesn't know about) without bothering to explain what he's expecting Madison to actually do.  And Madison didn't elaborate on how he will "change his ways" to meet Gris' expectations, which again weren't described to begin with, but Gris is still satisfied that Madison knows what he means and will comply.

Also, this is the second time in five chapters that the author has made a big deal about a character's gun without it being used or even needed.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure it's ever been fired.  I remember Gris using a shotgun to blow away that caged canary, but other than that...

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, June 15, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Two - The Seeds of Destruction are Sown

Yes, in this dramatic chapter the conspiracy to destroy Jettero Heller is put into motion.  This is clearly the turning point in which the hero's initial success is dealt a crushing blow by the villain as the story enters the Second Act.  Truly, Mission Earth is on the road to its darkest hour.

This will involve gag glasses and false teeth.

Gris bums around his hotel suite and watches the good old HellerVision as the book's hero drives to the Spreeport Speedway, and when Heller passes through a security checkpoint Gris sees that Heller has joined the Spreeport Racing Club and NASCAR sometime offscreen, probably when Gris was wasting chapter after chapter with Utanc.  Heller puts the eye-hurtingly red Cadillac through its paces and does a few easy laps, then pulls into the pit to check something.

But then Heller is accosted by a thuggish group of... reporters.

A tough-looking camera crew was descending upon him!  Five men.  They were carrying rather old-looking equipment.  They were filthy and unshaven.  The obvious leader was a very bad egg.

Yes, reporters.  This crew from Screw News heard a tip that Heller is developing a new fuel source, so they want an interview - and they won't take no for an answer!  Gris is tense because Heller's not wearing his baseball cleats, so he's defenseless!  When Heller refuses to speak to them, the reporters rush him!  One is sent flying by a wicked punch, but the rest produce lead pipes!

The exclamation points aren't making this exciting, are they?

But we're spared further unexciting, uninteresting action when another reporter rushes in to break up the fight.  Why it's Madison, looking much more presentable than the pipe-wielding reporters, and he shoos off his rivals by threatening to report them to an ethics committee.  What a happy coincidence that he was in the area to "save" Heller.

Madison explains that he's from a "conservative little paper" called Chemistry Today to do a piece on the speedway's non-skid asphalt paint, but upon hearing about Heller's new fuel, his interest has been piqued.  Madison explains that since the new fuel has already been leaked, Heller is going to continue to be bothered until he makes an official statement, so it might be best if he makes a "little tut-tut statement in a conservative paper like Chemistry Today and they'll bother you no more."

Heller agrees, and a truck full of audio equipment and three station wagons suddenly roars out of hiding to surround him, as a full camera crew disembarks to crowd around Heller.  But before too many pictures are taken, Madison asks if Heller will don some fake glasses, since they make him "look studious," as viewers associate glasses with learning.  Heller agrees.  Then Madison realizes that Heller's jaw is "too regular.  It will arouse jealousy or women.  MAKEUP!"  Heller agrees.  Oh, and he needs to wear these fake buckteeth.  Heller agrees.

And even though Gris is watching this all through Heller's eyes, he somehow knows that the makeup crew is turning Heller's jaw into something "protruding and pugnacious," half a page before a mirror is produced.  He also knows that Heller's expression during the photo shoot is mainly "amused," again without a mirror around.

After the first barrage of pictures, Madison leaves to do a quick interview with someone else, while his crew gets out backdrops and wardrobe changes and everything so they can "practice" their craft - they're all newbies, you see.  When Madison returns, he has a friendly chat about the new fuel source, which Gris doesn't bother to relay to us.  Madison then asks as a big favor for Heller to do some driving and try to skid out, to test the new paint.

Heller was amused.  He wanted to try some driving anyway.  He made the Caddy skid and spin.  He amused himself.

It's... the problem is that not only is Hubbard trying to slip into the third-person narration he so unfortunately eschewed for this book, but Gris is just an uninteresting first-person narrator.  So even when the author is consistent with his writing style, it doesn't pay off.

Heller shows off for the cameras by braking and swerving after completing a lap, but there's a Hubbard Action Scene as he almost flips the Caddy and throws a wheel.  But he's fine and sets about replacing the wheel on his own, while the news crew gushes about the good shots they're getting.  As they leave, Madison suggests that Heller hold on to those fake teeth and glasses and wear them around other photographers.  And if you're wondering why he's being encouraged to wear fake teeth and glasses, it'll be explained in a few chapters, and it's for just as dumb a reason as you're probably imagining.

The chapter ends with Gris surmising that all of this was Madison's way of building Confidence with Heller, but he worries that Mr. Bury was overstating Madison's danger.  "I thought it was pretty inane."

Never thought you'd be agreeing with Soltan Gris, huh?

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter One - The Three C's and Mr. Mmmmmfffff

Suddenly there's acid rain.  Yeah.  We've been in New York for what, weeks?  And though it was made clear that the river's all mucky and oily, this is the first we've heard about acid rain. But here it is, bad enough to eat holes in your clothing.

Gris wisely spends the evening indoors, but after making contact with Senator Twaddle he receives a telephone call and a message: "Mmmmmfffff."

I hung up in disgust.  But I was puzzled too.  I did not know a soul in New York named "Mmmmmfffff."  Hungarian?

Second inexplicable Hungarian reference in six chapters.  What could it mean?

It goes without saying that Utanc is missing and Gris isn't remotely interested.  But later that evening Mr. Mmmmmfffff calls back, only this time after some juggling of the phone another voice can be heard.  Yes, it's Raht and Terb, the former with a jaw wired shut, the latter with arms still in casts.  Terb reports that Raht managed to climb up and disable the 831 Relayer as per Gris' orders, but in the process both sustained injuries that will put them out of action for another two weeks.  Gris is unimpressed by their attempts to loaf and hangs up angrily.

Moments later, he realizes that the 831 Relayer has been shut off!  HellerVision, ho!

The screen shows a private room in some restaurant decorated like an old English inn, complete with mounted boar heads on the wall and waiters in red jackets.  Heller and his dinner companions are all dressed in black gowns and graduation caps to celebrate Izzy Epstein earning his doctorate.  They sing an original song to the tune of "Happy Birthday," thereby dodging copyright infringement, and in deference to the guest of honor's outlook have a cake shaped like a coffin.  Izzy gives a short speech thanking everyone for ensuring that no disasters befell him during the graduation ceremony, and warning that he is therefore due some terrible misfortune.  This gets cheerful applause.

But something relevant eventually happens this chapter - Heller mentions to Izzy that he plans to put his converted Cadillac through its paces, specifically at the track at Spreeport, Long Island, to ensure that Gris gets the proper address.  Gris immediately rushes off to phone Madison where to go the next day to bump into Heller.  During the conversation, Madison describes the three-step process he'll use to make Heller famous - first he'll build Confidence in his abilities, then make use of media saturation to guarantee Coverage, and finally build Controversy to keep everyone interested.

Gris is confused, and a little worried - why, Madison's plan doesn't involve any shooting at all!  And it sounds so simple and straightforward that he worries how it could hinder Heller in any way.  "Maybe Heller really was going to win!  Awful thought."

And again, I'm torn, because nothing about this story has instilled any drama or uncertainty about Heller's inevitable victory, but because Gris is guessing that Heller will win, the universe has to prove him wrong and thus deal Heller a setback.  It's a logical paradox that could threaten a mind unshielded by apathy or boredom.

Oh, and Gris has forgotten about that platen he needs to steal and that Heller might be using to encode his scheduled mission report.  He doesn't bother to keep spying on Heller in hopes of catching a glimpse of where the platen's hidden.  It'll be another four chapters before that synapse fires.

Back to Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Eight 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Eight - The Console Organ of Bad News

Gris and Bury go to the Slime-Tripe Magazine Building, which is literally just across the street from the offices of Octopus Oil.  "The building reared in limestone, aluminum and glass splendor.  We entered a huge lobby done in polished and dulled stainless steel."  Wait, what?  How can it be both polished and dulled?

This structure of paradoxes publishes magazines such as Slime, Tripe, Riffraff, Dirt Illustrated and Misfortune.  Apparently in the grim dark future of 2010-ish, publishers will go completely negative and stop trying to hide the fact, while the reading public will lower their standards and willingly purchase a magazine entitled Slime.  And I guess people are eager to read about Riffraff instead of Hollywood's latest batch of celebrities.

Bury and Gris take an elevator up an undisclosed number of floors and pass through a room reeking of marijuana and opium, as opposed to heroin, which still holds rural Virginia in its hoary clutches.  There are people in there, in blindfolds, being led by others in blindfolds.  Where are they going?  Why have they all blinded themselves?  No clue, they only appear for one line and have no further relevance to the chapter.  But it's certainly some clever imagery used for insightful commentary!  About how journalists are blind and helpless, reliant on editors who are also blind... or something. 

Just visible past the drug haze are signs bearing the magazines' slogans: "All the News That Gives You Fits," "Unreality is the Only Reality" (what), "Slime, the Magazine That Doesn't Lie or Cheat Anyone But Its Public," "Always Check Your Facts in the Coatroom and Then Write Your Story," "They Want Blood, Give it to Them--Even If It Is Your Own."  See, in the future readers will seek out publications that explicitly tell them that they will be lied to.  Reflecting the magazines' priorities are the staff's doors - Libeller in Chief, Scurrility Editor, not to mention Head Pervert.  In the future, instead of reading about perverts being put on trial, the reading public will want to read stories written by perverts.

It goes without saying that despite being able to identify the clouds of smoke as coming from heroin and marijuana, the drugs will have absolutely no effect on Mr. Bury, to say nothing of Gris, who is a Voltarian and as such particularly vulnerable to such drugs' effects.

We actually see some 2010-ish futuristic technology when Gris and Bury enter the office of the Owner-Publisher, who is out having an LSD-fueled gay affair with his psychiatrist.  The room contains an unoccupied couch in place of a desk, and a console organ being played by a woman in a man's white-tie evening attire.  As she presses the keys, instead of making music, the device projects an ever-shifting collage of images on a wall, pictures of corpses and graves, natural disasters and crashed vehicles, "a symphony of disaster."  Gris finds it "rather appealing."

Unlike alien technology such as the Magical Telescope or Hypno-Helmets, Hubbard makes absolutely no attempt to explain how this If It Bleeds It Leads Pipe Organ functions, and Gris shows no interest in its workings.

Mr. Bury shoos the organist out and explains to Gris how journalism works: Rockecenter doesn't actually own any news corporations, instead they're all in debt to his banks, and as part of the terms of getting a loan or lease they have to take on a bank-selected director, who will then dictate what stories get printed and how they're spun.  In this way they can also control the government by threatening to print embarrassing stories that cost elected officials their jobs.  And Gris gushes on and on about how masterful this system of "closed circuit propaganda" is and how Lombar would be interested.  He also presses a button on the keyboard and gets a nude woman being strangled to appear on the wall.  "Not a bad looking girl, I thought."

I guess in the future the government has forgotten all the tricks like executive privilege or embedded reporters or selective leaking that it used to stay ahead of the forth estate in the 2000's we're familiar with.

Playing "Saint James Infirmary"... wait a tick, didn't someone sing that at the beginning of the last book?  Yeah, Part Fifteen, Chapter One, it was on the radio in Heller's car!  Back when Mary was still alive!  So... huh.  Is this a callback, or is Gris remembering a tune he heard secondhand several weeks ago, or did Hubbard forget he used this song already and is still cycling through the music of his youth?

Well, playing that song on the Grisly News Pipe Organ makes images of kaiju appear on the wall, and then Gris finds one key that triggers a rhythmic pulse of cascading blood, and then Madison walks in and Gris gets his first good look at him.

I was amazed!

Here was a clean-looking, rather handsome young man.  He was impeccably dressed, quite conservatively.  He had brown hair and very appealing brown eyes.  He might well have been a model for a shirt ad.  He seemed quiet, well-mannered, totally presentable.

Gris isn't gay, by the way.

Still talking in headlines - "Social notices.  Madison arrived late and was deeply apologetic.  Unquote." - Madison reports that he has his credentials as a Slime-Tripe reporter and has been put on a special independent assignment.  Bury directs him to give Gris his contact information and assigns him to the Apparatus operative.  The plan is for Madison, as a reporter, to go visit Heller and offer to assist him despite not being directly hired as a PR agent.  Bury urges Madison to do his utmost to help Heller, which Madison is very enthusiastic about, vowing to make his client immortal.

As opposed to Bury and Gris making Heller extremely mortal, with the help of the eighteen tanks and aircraft carrier used to acquire Madison.

Madison leaves, followed shortly by Gris and Bury.  Upon exiting the building, Bury checks the area for snipers, something he did not do before entering the building, or before leaving cover.  He tucks his gun more securely in his holster, even though he did not draw it at any point during this chapter, nor was there any indication that he or Gris was in any sort of danger.  Despite a whole third of last chapter being about Bury and Gris checking their weapons in anticipation of going on a dangerous mission, this chapter has been totally free of any threats or hints of conflict.  Nothing but clouds of marijuana, blindfolded employees, and a woman on a holographic pipe organ. 

The chapter ends with Bury giving Gris command of Madison for the near future, since Bury has to run off to Nova Scotia to convince the Canadian Governor-General to finish his genocide of the French minority so Octopus and seize the oil fields... wow.  So a minority that makes up less than 18% of the province population is keeping Rockecenter's energy interests from rolling in?  Go Francophones! 

 Gris, for once, is having second thoughts about this plan.

This Madison was obviously the nicest fellow you ever wanted to meet.  He seemed even naive, taking a liking to Heller at once.

I wonder if Bury hadn't exaggerated the dangers in this fine young man.  Maybe he would make Heller famous and successful after all!

Aw, that's sweet, the bad guy's falling for someone.

But now I'm conflicted.  On the one hand, Madison is part of a scheme that is opposed to Heller, so it should be doomed to failure because you know, Heller.  But on the other hand, Gris has now proposed that Madison might not hamper Heller, and because Gris is always wrong, Madison may now in fact pose a threat.

Back to Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Seven - Gris Makes a Withdrawal and Has a Gun

A nice thing about Hubbard's work is that generally speaking, for every long stupid chapter there's a short stupid chapter to balance it out.  This is one such chapter.

Gris shows up at work bright and early the next morning, "quivering with anxiousness," only to learn from the New Personnel Management guy that as Rockecenter's "family spy" he doesn't have an office (an obvious place for an assassination attempt) or computer profile, and is further advised not to sign anything for fear of blowing his cover.  But he will still be paid from the Petty Cash window.

So Gris visits that window and asks for, at random, ten thousand dollars.  The old lady behind the desk hands out some paperwork (which Gris signs as John Smith), counts out ten thousand dollars in small bills, and puts half in Gris' hand and the other half in her purse.

I was awed.  What an efficient organization.  Their spies didn't exist!  And they had developed a graft system unbelievably simple!  I would have to write Lombar about this!  No wonder he made such a study of Earth culture!

That's two-thirds of the chapter, Gris being impressed at the tremendous wastage of Rockecenter's little group, in which there is no oversight and thousands of dollars are squandered on cashiers.  The last half-page concerns Gris visiting Mr. Bury's office as they prepare to meet Madison at the Slime-Tripe Magazine Building, which necessitates a weapons check.  Bury has a "flat Beretta M-84, .380 Auto pistol," while Gris looks over his own Colt Python .357 Magnum-38 Special.  And now all your Mission Earth cosplayers out there know exactly what kind of replica firearm to get for JettCon 2013.

And that's it.  "Har-har look how corrupt this organization is and how Gris thinks it's a good thing," and "check out what I'm packing."

Next chapter, Hubbard takes on the news industry with his characteristic subtlety.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, June 11, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Six - A Colossal Waste of Manpower and Taxpayer Money

Well, let's go get ourselves a PR guy, and let's be really, really stupid about it.

It's nearing half after eight, the "deadly zero hour" for the operation, this "rendezvous with fate."  Bury and Gris meet up with Police Inspector Grafferty, who under Bury's orders has deployed every one of the city's squad cars to seal off the pier, and is quite surprised that tonight's events will be entirely legal.  Though Bury does advise him to keep his men away from the Free Trade Zone - they both know that Americans won't stand a chance if brought up before the International Court of Human Rights.

Beyond the police cordon are sixteen M-20 battle tanks deployed in battle formation (on a New York street?  Where is this staging area exactly, and how does it have enough room for nearly twenty tanks?), their NATO banners and pendants fluttering in the breeze.  The "very British and smart" crewmen are all standing in front of their vehicles, and give a "Roy-all sa-loot!  HUP!" when Mr. Bury identifies himself as the agent of Delbert John Rockecenter.  Watches are synchronized, orders are given, and Mr. Bury hops in the lead tank's cupola while Gris rides on a track guard.  Stealthily they...

Yes, sixteen tanks just "stealthily crept" into position merely fifty feet away from the entrance to Pier 92.  They're approaching on an otherwise deserted street.  Sixteen tanks, multi-ton behemoths of war with "roaring, snarling engines," are sneaking up on somebody.

It's pretty obvious Hubbard never gave this turkey a second glance after doing the first draft, but now I'm wondering if he even looked at what he was writing.

Do you like long, rambling speeches?  Speeches that muddle Shakespeare and Paine up with hackneyed lawyering references?  Speeches that are presented as one huge half-page paragraph?

Bury looked at his watch.  We were in plenty of time.  Bury looked down at me perched precariously on the tread cover.  "Brilliant man, Hatchetheimer.  He rapped off this plan, just like that.  A masterpiece.  I hope it works.  Too bad he chose the wrong side more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Whaddya know, a clear suggestion of when the hell this story takes place!  Yes, it's approximately... now-ish.  Guess ol' Hatchetheimer was on Hitler's general staff at the tender age of 15 or something.

A loss to the world.  Eighteen different countries want him as a war criminal.  It makes it difficult to send him supplies for his terrorist activities.  


In the next half hour, we'll know the best or the worst.  The loosing of the dogs of war is always a chancy thing.  But 'Cry havoc,' I say.  When the court fails to return a favorable verdict, there is always the bazooka to decide the last event.  You should remember that, Inkswitch.  In your present position you have to get used to these times that try men's souls.  In minutes now, this case goes to the final judge and we either stand, weapon-shorn, before the last tribunal or we will have that God (bleeped) Madison safely in our clutches.  The prosecution rests."

With Bury's speech over with, Gris and the waiting tank crews spot boats no doubt deployed from that aircraft carrier (that was as of a few hours ago in drydock), and teams of Navy SEALS ghost into position near the warehouse in this Free Trade Zone.  Bury confides that the real problem with Madison is his car, "an Excalibur.  It's a replica of a 1930 open touring phaeton, mostly chrome."

Now that we're established to be in the 20somethings instead of the 1980's, all these strange affections for the culture of the 1930s make even less sense.  If it's not Capone-era gangsters, it's vintage cars, or movie stars from the early Golden Age of Hollywood.  It's not even a societal thing like the Fallout series' retro-futuristic design.  There's only "normal" characters and those who like the 1930's, we haven't seen anyone with a fondness for Renaissance Festivals or any decade other than that of Hubbard's youth.

In due time a little old lady, Madison's mother delivering food, suddenly appears... she doesn't drive up, and she couldn't have come up the street without noticing the eighteen tanks, so who knows where she came from.  She totters towards a huge shipping container resting on the pier.  Then the operation begins and the SEALS open fire (with blanks) and fire a bazooka (not a blank) at the container.  Immediately that Excalibur roars out to take a hail of gunfire, only to veer off when Bury orders four of the tanks to open up with their machine guns.

For trying to capture a guy in an open-topped vehicle, they're firing a lot of bullets at him.

Madison speeds up 12th Avenue, and Bury orders the tanks after it.  Tanks.  Racing after a car.  Gris guesses their speed at "Eight?  Ninety?  A hundred!"  For reference, one of the fastest tanks known today, the Leopard 2, has a listed top speed of around 42 miles per hour.  It must be the future!

Or Gris is an idiot.  That's probably the simplest explanation.

So the tanks are chasing this vintage super-charged car down the highway, occasionally firing their guns at the guy they're still trying to capture, and I guess this finally explains part of this sodding book's cover.  But then the Excalibur suddenly slows and comes to a stop, followed by the tanks slewing to a halt.  You see, crewmen from the aircraft carrier Saratoga installed those wires that snag and slow landing aircraft so they don't go over the side of the boat.  On the highway.  To stop this car.

Mr. Bury called up an ex-Nazi, ninety-year-old general for advice on how to catch this wily, dangerous PR agent, and the plan they came up with involved Navy SEALS and a police cordon and a friggin' armored company, and in the end they caught their guy thanks to a cable across the street.

Hey, Bury?  You know what could've accomplished the same thing using equipment that doesn't cost billions of dollars?  A SPIKE STRIP!

Or hell, intercept mommy's supper and drug it.  Or capture momma and hold her hostage.  Or send the SEALS in to nab him while he's sleeping.  Or use a neutral third party to just pass along an offer of employment if you want this guy to work for you.  Why in God's name does this require tanks?!

So Gris and Bury go to confront Madison, who speaks in press releases: "Banner Headline Obituary 18-point type quote MADISON DIES BEGGING FORGIVENESS unquote subhead 12-point ROCKECENTER FOREVER LAST WORDS unquote text quote Yesterday on West Side Elevated Highway comma J. Walter Madison" and so forth.  But Bury tries to explain that Madison's not in trouble after all.

Madison is incredulous, and rattles off his list of failures, such as an eighteen billion dollar loss in Patagonia when Octopus Oil holdings were seized after the country's president committed suicide, and an attempt to win over American Indians that ended with them exiled to Canada (what?), not to mention that he just kinda ran over his mom in his escape attempt.  But Bury reassures him that his mom's fine, and if he's at work tomorrow he'll have an assignment ready for him.

As Gris and Bury drop Madison off at his mom's condo, Bury explains things - they send Madison on purpose to, for example, get Indians exiled so their oil-rich lands can be seized, or bankrupt Patagonia after it attempted to pay for the appropriated Octopus properties, allowing the whole country to be taken over by the bank Rockecenter owns.  Even though Madison is a terrible PR man, his bosses make good use of his ability to ruin his clients.

So why was he living on a pier in fear for his life?  If he does the job his bosses want him to, why break the illusion that he's a good agent and drive him into hiding?  Why isn't he being safely held in an office somewhere surrounded by sycophants that reinforce his delusion?  And what about Madison is so dangerous that they needed tanks to capture him?

Riding back to the Bentley Bucks Deluxe, I knew I had been right.  It had taken an aircraft carrier and tanks and the whole New York police force to get this thing started.


Not even the Gods could help Heller now!

So to recap, the Bad Guys' master plan to ruin Heller once and for all is to hope that he hires this terrible PR agent and follows his advice, thereby making a fool of himself.  Not applying the same excessive force used to hire the PR agent against Heller himself, nooo!  Just the PR agent, if Heller goes along with him.

And these Bad Guys secretly control the whole world.

And somehow following the ideals of the author who presented this scenario is going to prevent the future from becoming so stupid. 

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, June 8, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Five - Kosher Hot Dogs and a To-Do List

So after the white-knuckled excitement of watching Gris listen to Mr. Bury make some phone calls, this chapter has the two grabbing dinner while those tanks and aircraft carrier get into position for their assault on the lair of an advertising agent.

They go to the Jewish deli being picketed by the KKK last chapter, and Bury reveals that he doesn't like the idea of Jews making money, though to be fair he feels the same way about every race.  Also, Rockecenter finances the Klan.  They make social trouble, you see, and that... benefits him... somehow.

He's the bad guy, okay?  All of society's ills need to be traced to him, so when Heller defeats him it will be that much more of an accomplishment.

Gris feels sorry for shooting at the hooded hatemongers last chapter and joins Bury in eating some kosher hot dogs.  Bury also scribbles up a to-do list based on the conversation last chapter, and lets Gris proofread it for no real reason other than to give the author an easy excuse to share it with the reader.  It's a load of "promote this soldier if he does well," "demote that annoying operator lady," that sort of thing.  Though in the process Bury remembers that he forgot to call the mayor to get the roads sealed off for the upcoming assault.  An assault on, in must be repeated, an advertising agent.

The mayor was reluctant to help, but Bury mentioned the ultimate target was in the Corleone mob, and the mayor's wife is a former showgirl and old rival of Babe Corleone, so he agreed to help in the end.  Mr. Bury, the trusted attorney of the most powerful man on the planet, nearly forgets that to-do list he just wrote up, but Gris catches it.

The chapter ends as the pair walk out and throw away their trash, with Bury explaining that Rockecenter is currently backing an anti-littering campaign so they can legally confiscate anti-Rockecenter leaflets and posters.  And then they proceed towards their "rendezvous with the Gods of battle."

Which is necessary to acquire the services of, I'm not letting go of this, an advertising agent.  An advertising agent who will destroy Heller in a way more reliable than the tanks and aircraft carrier used to get to the agent.

I'm sure these next few chapters are going to be some real humdingers. 

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Four - Mr. Bury on the Phone

I'm not exaggerating when I say this chapter is all about Mr. Bury in a phone booth while Gris stands outside, listening to one half of series of conversation.

Like I said last chapter, it's all up to Gris and Mr. Bury to find this dangerous J. Walter Madison.  Unfortunately the guy has fled to the end of a pier in some sort of Free Trade zone, beyond US jurisdiction.  And though Mr. Bury will cheerfully hire assassins to deal with problems, works with the secret power behind the U.S. government, and is a member of an organization frequently described as controlling the planet, the fact that getting Madison could involve international laws means he needs to get advice for what to do.

This is mostly an excuse for the author to show how well-connected Rockecenter's posse is, so we get to see Bury bossing around generals and other important officials.  But the whole exercise is somewhat self-defeating: Bury's enormously powerful and influential because he's able to ring up these people, but the reason he rings up those people is because he's unable to go onto a pier. 

Anyway, the chapter.  Bury and Gris have only four hours to go from the advertising district to the pier.  Gris tips over a passing liquor delivery trike, which lifts both his and Bury's spirits - by spilling some other spirits!  See, I can't come up with names like Stahb or Kutzbrain, but sometimes I'm sorta clever!

There's a line of Klansmen picketing in front of a Jewish deli, an impassable obstacle because Rockecenter owns the unions.  I don't know either.  They go in a subway station and Gris spots a "young black" graffiti-ing up the station.  Once Bury gets into a phone booth Gris goes topside, yells about the police and opens fire with his pistol to get the Klansmen to scatter (winging two of them), takes one of their placards, knocks the "black" out with a bag of change and steals his spray paint, whips up a sign saying "CIA Man" to stick to Bury's back while he's on the phone, and finally fixes up a placard to read "Down With the CIA" before forming a one-man protest outside the phone booth.  All this to ensure that nobody interrupts the phone call.

I think for that one stupid gag Gris just showed more initiative and cunning than he has in the last two books combined.

After fighting with the operator, Miss Goog... maybe it's a thirty-year-old reference to someone Hubbard hated?  Bury has to explain that of course he knows about the secret phone line, he owns the company (IT&T), and has the operator punt the president off and set him up with the National Security Agency.  After a brief chat with some spymaster named Peeksnoop, Bury gets connected to a General Hatchetheimer, currently leading a terrorist group in Cairo so they can blow up the US embassy tomorrow.

Oh, and did I mention that Hatchetheimer is a ninety-something veteran of Hitler's general staff?  At least we made it three books into the series before Hubbard dragged Hitler into it.

Bury and the venerable Nazi talk strategy for a bit before Bury reconnects to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to see what NATO units are in the area.  In a happy coincidence there's a British tank squadron about to give a show nearby that very evening, and they're promptly assigned to meet Bury on the pier.  Just to hedge his bets Bury also transfers a (drydocked) aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga (decommissioned 1992), to NATO command and starts giving its captain orders.

When the phone call is finally over, and a crowd disembarking from a train makes leaving the station difficult, Gris cunningly slaps the "CIA Man" sign on someone wearing a similar coat to Bury's, urging him to run.  The crowd takes off after him, and when Bury asks what's going on, Gris says "joggers."  Ba-dum tish.

So with a tank squadron and aircraft carrier at their command, Gris and Bury are now able to get ahold of the guy who will ruin Heller for them.

Instead of taking the tank squadron and aircraft carrier at their command, cutting out the middle-man, and blowing seven shades of hell out of their target.  Seriously, Bury can ring up a frigging tank division, but when faced with someone claiming to be Rockecenter's illegitimate heir, he goes with a single sniper in one attempt and a pair of dangerous drivers in the second.  He can boss around the president and punt him off the red hotline, but he can't deal with this Free Trade zone at the end of a pier without outside help.

That's what's being a Hubbard Villain is all about.  You run empires even though you're so stupid you couldn't win a game of Civilization.  You're incredibly powerful but always have these incredible weaknesses for the hero to exploit.  You're hyped so much that your defeat will be hailed as the greatest accomplishment in history, yet you're literally designed so that defeat is almost inevitable.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Three - In the Offices of Fatten, Farten, Burstein, and Ooze

This chapter's exhausting, like babysitting a pack of screaming eight-year-olds.  So much noise and chaos for so little gain.

Gris and Mr. Bury ride to their appointment with the accounting firm and talk a bit.  Mr. Bury wonders about taking a more direct approach to dealing with Heller/Wister, but Gris/Inkswitch mentions how Torpedo Fiaccola ended up failing in his assassination attempt - you know, the one that happened over one or two chapters last book.  Gris explains that Heller used the money Bury had paid Torpedo to finance his new fuel supply, and unsubtly hints that revealing this to Rockecenter could be bad for Bury's health.  Then he tries to use that as leverage to get Bury to tell why Rockecenter doesn't want a son - as if this wasn't explained three chapters ago - but Mr. Bury refuses.  He throws around phrases like "the defense rests!" to remind us that he is a lawyer.

And somehow this all convinces Bury that Gris is "the wiliest, craftiest son of a (bleepch)" he's ever met, while Gris replies that Bury is "the most vicious, conniving (bleepard) I have ever had the privilege of working with."

We shook hands solemnly in mutual admiration.

We had arrived at our destination.  "Now," said Mr. Bury, let's go get this Wister's life so (bleeped) up and ruined, he'll never again be able to lift his head!  Let's do it beyond any appeal and carry it straight through to total condemnation!"

With what enthusiasm we aligned!

It's all downhill from there.

Their car arrives at the offices of America's largest advertising and public relations firm, Fatten, Farten, Burstein and Ooze, whose name makes the like of "Captain Stahb" look restrained.  Another opportunity for subtlety is discarded when Gris outright calls the fish decorating the murals of the office lobby "suckerfish," as opposed to identifying them as loaches or lampreys or anything.  Let's just avoid any ways to let the reader feel clever for getting a joke in favor of beating them over the head with your use of imagery, Hubbard.

Headed to the elevators, my it's busy, Mr. Bury gets preferential treatment.  He gives Gris instructions to act like a hired goon at certain nonverbal cues.  Then they reach the 50th floor and the spectacle begins.

A pair of women, "scantily dressed like ushers," unroll a red carpet as Gris and Bury walk out of the elevator.  Another pair of girls scatter flowers in their path, while a team of violinists in Hungarian costume - I don't know either - follow behind, playing "seductive melodies."  Male trumpeters blast a fanfare when Gris and Bury reach the office of Vice President J.P. Flagrant and are admitted by a girl in a "lamb costume."  Hubbard really was a visionary.

The theatrics aren't done yet.  Three little girls in angel costumes sing a song of welcome set to "Happy Birthday to You," and ends in a line about "JELO" scrubbing and rinsing.  What the hell is JELO?  Wikipedia is stumped.  Google is no help.  I can only assume Hubbard is cleverly avoiding copyright infringement by omitting a second L.

Mr. Flagrant greets his guests warmly, offering a "Havana Havana Havana cigar," champagne, or a "nice, ripe secretary to refresh you."  When Bury tries to get down to business, in rushes a secretary with "her notebook ready for dictation in one hand and a bag of contraceptives in the other."  Hey lady, you should take those down the street and save Rockecenter's employees some money at the abortion clinics.

Bury wants J. Walter Madison to handle Heller's case, and pandemonium breaks out, consuming the remaining six pages of the chapter in complete madness.  Flagrant and his secretaries drop to their knees and cry out ("in chorus") "NOT J. WARBLER MADMAN!"  Bury gives a signal, and Gris acts like he's going for a gun in his coat.  People scream, offices empty and employees go to hide in closets, while others barricade themselves in their rooms.

F.F.B.O.'s chairman, Mr. Buhlshot

I need a minute.


So is Hubbard breaking down as he writes this?  Let's examine the name Soltan Gris.  The last name evokes the words "grease," indicating something slick and slimy, and "gristle," tough and unsavory portions of meat.  The first name I guess foreshadows the amount of time Gris will spend in Turkey sitting on his ass while trying to shag a dancing girl.  Overall it's a appellation that's trying to tell you how to view the character even before you see him do anything.

But it's at least a little more subtle than "Buhlshot." The head of Fatten, Farten, Burstein and Ooze.

There's seven books left.  Just how bad is it going to get before this series is over? (editor's note from the future: worse than you can imagine, but in ways that make stupid names the least of your concern)

Anyway.  Buhlshot is furious that Flagrant is risking business with Rockecenter, at least until he hears why.  He seriously gets on his hands and knees and licks Mr. Bury's boots while begging him not to assign this J. Walter Madison to the case.  Bury threatens to call in some bank loans, Buhlshot caves and calls an "immediate inspiration conference" to find someone who knows where Madison is.  A terrified Miss Dicey is hauled out of a closet but refuses to disclose Madison's location, even when threatened with defenestration from the fiftieth floor.  Death is better than dealing with Madison, you see.

Gris gets "giddy" when they open the windows in anticipation of chucking her.

A director is called to get the lighting and choreography of this murder correct.  Musicians are summoned.  There is a clapboard, but no camera.  They call it a "JELO" commercial.  What is JELO.  Why is this happening.  Is this even real.  Am I real.

The first take is ruined because Dicey faints before she can be tossed to her death.  She cracks once some champagne is thrown on her face to rouse her, because it ruined her makeup and she'd just die if  the public saw her like that while splattered on the sidewalk.  In exchange for a free trip to China and a posting behind the Iron Curtain, she reveals that Madison is living out of his car on a pier.  Gris and Bury set off to retrieve him, because Gris is the viewpoint character so he has to go.  The musicians and flower girls see them off.  Flagrant is fired for risking the Rockecenter account.

I guess this is... satire... about how advertising firms like to throw people out of windows while setting the murder up like a commercial?  And how public relations workers have violinists around all the time?  From Hungary?  And the JELO is... and the bowl full of contraceptives, that's a very important component of the... who was Burstein and why is he or she so loathsome to have the company of Fatten, Farten and Ooze?  Or is it a comedic "odd name out" sort of thing?  Like the great clans Hong, Sung, Fang, Tang, and McSweeny of Interesting Times?

At the beginning of the chapter - when things made more sense, so I'm going to cling to it - Gris actually remembers that he doesn't have Heller's platen yet.  He worries that if things go wrong the Voltarian invasion fleet will wipe everything off the planet and start the ecosystem from scratch before colonizing it.  But Heller is there on a mission to turn the environment around.  They have the means to reverse the damage.  So even if Heller fails, can't they just come in and use that same technology to salvage the situation?  Instead of destroying everything and having to rebuild it from scratch?

This might not be feasible if the invasion is years and years away, and the environment may be too damaged by then - so why is Gris worried then?  His boss is about to usurp the Voltarian government.  He just needs to stall for time long enough for those plans to go through.

I don't know.  Maybe next chapter... oh God there's someone named Peeksnoop.

Back to Chapters One and Two

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Part Twenty-Seven, Chapters One and Two - Invisible Stamps and Scheduling Mishaps

Not an auspicious way to start the new Part.  Chapter One opens with Gris telling us how

The next few days were a liberal education in how well a great and powerful organization like Rockecenter's could (bleep) up a planet.  I was overawed with admiration.  No wonder Lombar studied Rockecenter so hard!  I took notes whenever possible so I could send them through and curry favor with my chief.  Earth might be deficient and primitive in many of its technologies but the Rockecenter organization was light-years beyond anything like it in outer space.  Five generations of

Yes, he blathers on for one long paragraph.

cunning had made it what it was today: a colossus!  A whole planet dancing to the tune of one psychotic man!  Magnificent!  Compared to this, Heller was a puny nothing!  And I would launch the avalanche upon him!

But instead of a concise summary of this education, Gris rewinds to stepping out of Rockecenter's office after meeting the man, where Rockecenter's secretary, running late for an appointment at the abortion clinic (girl, there's this pill...), has Gris open his shirt so she can stamp his chest and be marked as the "Rockecenter Family Spi," dated and signed and everything.  Except when Gris inspects himself there's no mark to be seen.  Then he goes home and takes a bath and doesn't worry about wherever Utanc's run off to this time.  And that's the Chapter One, a rambling introductory paragraph and I guess some comedy?

Chapter Two is all about Gris' first day as an employee of Rockecenter.  He gets to work at 9 am sharp, waits outside Mr. Bury's office for forty-five minutes until a janitor unlocks the door, and sits inside the office through lunch and past one o'clock, when armed security guards finally burst in and apprehend him.  After a good deal of confusion it's explained that Gris was supposed to be at the Personnel office at ten that morning.

There's further confusion, in which "Inkswitch"'s name somehow wound up on a scrubbed combat mission to Venezuela, but eventually they pop open Gris' shirt and shine a special light on his skin to reveal the "invisible" stamp from the night before, confirming his identity as Rockecenter's new spy.  Guards argue over who won a bet until a psychologist is called in to declare them both losers and take the money.  Gris' information is fed into a computer to produce a blank screen, which is correct since he's under cover.  Then he finally meets Mr. Bury and rushes off to an appointment due to start an hour ago.  End Chapter Two.

And this experience is regarded as desirable by the book's villain and his boss.  They think this replicating all this is going to help them take over the world, while most readers are no doubt wondering how Rockecenter's mob issues paycheck without tearing itself apart.  They want to "(bleep) up the planet" and rule it at the same time.

Does Hubbard consider his villains Bad Guys and therefore possessing opposite morals and interests from Good Guys?  Like a well-managed organization is a Good thing, so the villains are going to try to use the exact opposite to achieve their goals?  But in reality - which Mission Earth only resembles in a loose sense - the most horrifyingly successful of evil regimes usually get a reputation for ruthless efficiency and clear lines of command.  Even if it isn't always deserved.

At last things were happening!

Well, there is that.  Next chapter we'll meet this PR firm that will destroy Heller once and for all.

Back to Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Seven

Monday, June 4, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Seven - Delbert John Rockecenter

I have a hunch this is the most important chapter in the book.

An "apelike" guard marches Gris out the building and around town to purchase a bag of popcorn and a quart of goat's milk, only to return Gris to the building and pass him off to another guard.  It's all for a stupid, one-sentence gag five-and-a-half pages from now, but takes up five paragraphs.

Gris runs the security gauntlet, passing through barricades featuring manned machine guns, enduring frisking and X-ray searches for poison capsules in his teeth or surgically-implanted bombs.  His gun's serial numbers are phoned in ("weapon has not been used in the assassination of heads of state lately") and his identity is run through the FBI database ("not wanted yet").  He gets fingerprints and photos taken and shredded.  And then he passes through the Chief Psychologist, who examines the bumps on Gris' head before approving him.

Satire means accusing scientists of using methods discredited fifty years ago.

Gris gets stripped, disinfected, has a blood sample taken from him, and is then brought before a girl to decide which identifying badge he should get, because otherwise Mr. Rockecenter won't know who he is.  He's certainly no King and doesn't qualify for Hit Man of the Year, and unfortunately the lady's all out of Unwanted Guest passes.  So Gris goes with Undercover Operator Up for Promotion to Family Spy for lack of a better option.

Finally, he's ushered into the presence of the most powerful man on the planet. 

There was an arched church door on the other side of the office.  The ape-man pushed me through it.

I was in an enormous room.  It had a vaulted ceiling of cathedral height.  It had saint niches with votive candles burning under each saint.  The statues were all of Delbert John Rockecenter.  There was a big desk--actually an altar.

He was not, however, sitting at his desk.  He was in a gilded throne chair,

As opposed to a throne hammock.  Ugh.

staring at a wall I could not see.  Ah, I thought, Delbert John Rockecenter was deep in thought, sorting out the cares of the world with his mighty brain.

I was pushed further into the room.  Then I saw what he was looking at.  It was a one-way mirror.  On the other side of it was the dressing room and toilet of chorus girls.  They were taking off their costumes and getting into even scantier costumes.  They were also going to the toilet.

It's explained shortly that Rockecenter is inspecting his girls for pregnancy, because he hates babies.  "You've heard of my abortion and infanticide programs, of course.  Got to keep the population down.  Riffraff!"  And as we all know, abortion and infanticide are the easiest and most cost-effective ways of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. 

So is Rockecenter a villain because he advocates abortion over, say, contraceptives, or is he a villain because he meets Hubbard's requirement of migraine-inducing stupidity?

But let's rewind a bit and get a look at the man himself.

Delbert John Rockecenter became aware that somebody had entered his office.  He leaped forward, turned and glared.  He was a tall man, past middle age, not much hair.  His features were unmistakeably those of a Rockecenter--a cross between a politician and a hungry hawk.  But it was hard to tell.  The whole cathedral office illumination was red.

"Can't you see I'm having my afternoon snack!" he roared at us.

"I brought it," said the ape-man, holding out the popcorn and goat's milk.

Gris had to sit through the Rockecenter family history a few chapters ago but knows what the clan looks like, even though he can't really tell what Rockecenter looks like due to the lighting, which is one of the first things most people would have commented upon after entering a chamber bathed in a blood-red glow but here it is saved for last.

Oh yeah, the goat's milk?  It's because Rockecenter thinks it made Gandhi such a great world leader.  Laugh, dammit!

Once he finishes his snack and inspecting his girls for pregnancy, presumably by somehow doing a urine test through the mirror, Rockecenter and Gris get to talking.  Rockecenter immediately decides "Inkswitch" (did I mention that's Gris' alias?  Well, that's Gris' alias) is trying out for the post of family spy, and Gris runs with it, bluffing that he's one of Rockecenter's undercover men and dropping lots of names heard in conversations over the past few chapters.  Then he gets down to business, describing for the third time this Part the threat of Heller's new cheap fuel source.  After assuring Rockecenter that the inventor can't be bought off, the energy magnate decides that murder is the only solution.

Then he takes a moment to help Gris take the oath as his new family spy:

"One: Competition strangles the free enterprise system.  Two: The world must continue to believe that as long as D. J. Rockecenter owns everything, they are safe from destructive rivalries.  Three: Governments must continue to understand that as long as they do as D. J. Rockecenter orders, they will have plenty of conflicts.

Oh yeah, governments love conflicts.  We're having a roaring good time in Afghanistan, and only reluctantly left Iraq a year or so ago.  We're just itching for an excuse to dive head-first into Syria.  The only reason we haven't invaded Russia yet is a shortage of long underwear.

"Four: The Banks must continue to know that as long as D. J. Rockecenter makes a profit, nobody else matters.

What, even the bankers?

"Five: We stand for democracy so long as it doesn't get in the way of communism.

But wouldn't the elimination of private property royally screw over a monopolist businessman?

"Six: The population must be educated in the need of euthanasia and wholesale abortion, and cooperate in its own humanocide.

Why?  How does that benefit you?  Why do you want fewer customers?  Or is the threat of one interest taking over the planet not considered enough by this author, who decided to add the danger of bodily harm and human extinction?

"Seven: Only what is good for D. J. Rockecenter is good for everybody.

This is stupid.

"Eight: D. J. Rockecenter is the only family member that matters.

This should be easy enough to follow, since we haven't met any others yet.

"And nine: Trust nobody.  I hereby faithfully swear to see that these policies are rammed down everybody's throat, so help me, Rockecenter."

So that's done.  Mr. Bury comes it on cue to turn white when Rockecenter mentions that the newest threat is named Jerome Terrance Wister.  But Gris winks to the guy - well, "closed my right eye to Bury out of Rockecenter's sight" - and assures his new boss that Bury probably hasn't heard of this new student.  Gris suggests that Wister/Heller is going to show off his new fuel during a racing event, so in response Rockecenter assigns Bury to hire Heller a public relations man, which even confuses Gris.

He said, "Ride this thing!  Get on it and pump!  Ride this until you (bleep) it all up.  Understood?"

Nnnnot really, no.  But Bury nods and is dismissed, even while Gris notes the startling similarity in behavior between Rockecenter and Lombar Hisst.  No sooner does he think that than Rockecenter strolls over to step onto a balcony, and look out as "Evening was sweeping the city which, like the planet, he owned."  Rockecenter explains that he's actually a modest man who's been recently reassured by his foundation of doctors that he's immortal, and as such doesn't need to get married and doesn't want a son for "competition."

Obviously a daughter wouldn't be suitable competition, and of course Rockecenter hasn't considered undergoing a little snippity-snip that will ensure that he'll never have to worry about progeny again.

He looked at his watch.  He looked up.  An ecstatic expression came over his face.  "Don't you hear the harp music?  It happens every day at this time.  Now listen!  Listen carefully!"

He paused.  Bliss bathed his face.  "There!  Right on time!  There it was!  Ah, what beautiful words!  'The one true god is Delbert John Rockecenter!'"

So what, no crooked businessman's tried to secure a global monopoly without assuming he's a god?  Is there no compromise?  Maybe someone corners a market and thinks he's a quasideity?

He turned and rushed to his desk.  He came back holding a pen and a piece of paper on a golden tablet.  "Oh, I'm so glad to have another witness!  Sign this attestation please."

I signed but I felt the world was spinning around me.

Audio hallucination!  Paranoid schizophrenia!  Megalomania!

Remember, psychology is a quack pseudoscience, except when used to diagnose the insanity of the book's villains.

Just like Lombar!

Delbert John Rockecenter was a stark, raving lunatic!

I was working for TWO crazy men!

Or the same character copy-and-pasted onto two different locations.  Yes, the "crazy boss" revelation at the end of The Invaders Plan was so good that Hubbard did it again.

Let's also take a moment to appreciate the staggering irony of having a villainous businessman who thinks he's a god and has his office set up like a cathedral, in a book written by someone who tried to start his own religion as part of his quest for tax-exempt income.

I'm pretty sure Hubbard identifies the most with Jettero Heller, but I don't think that's the character he most closely resembles.

Back to Part Twenty-Six, Chapter Six