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

1 comment:

  1. Commenting here since this is the last bit I've read so far.

    This is a really good sporking, up there with some of the greats of the Genre, though not so high as the original riffers. I suppose that's a good thing, though, since locking you up on a satalite to read Hubbard for our amusement would be cruel.

    I won't be commenting often. I've got a horrible memory for things I want to say, and read through a TTS system and an MP3 player so I tend to forget any good commentary by the time I get back here.

    I just want you to know there's at least one more person who's a loyal reader and enjoying the heck out of your suffering. :)

    As for the stories themselves, they really do read like someone's wish fulfillment fanfiction. Which, in itself, I don't really object to.. but I do sorta dislike the idea that someone made money off of them, especially with all of the unfortunate implications I've noticed and you've pointed out. I do think sometimes you swing at nothing, like with the guys who were so obviously Beaver cliches and you said you were tempted to label them Chinese because they were orange, but Hubbard's writing is such a target rich environment that slipping up can happen.

    Anyhow, keep up the good work. Shutting up.