Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Seven and Eight - Hot Wheels

Heller's fixed his racing helmet so that it's not only heated and treated with a nonwetting agent, but it's also covered with layers of plastic so that if anything gets on it he can just peel off the dirty layer.  Gris considers this cheating.  I'm wondering if wiping his visor off with his rag wouldn't be easier and just as distracting.

The track announcer reminds everyone of the quarter-million dollars prize money at stake, and apologizes for the lack of deaths despite the hazardous conditions.

The race continues.

Heller, roaring along at at least 120, was darting through the scattered pack!

A driver lunged sideways in an effort to hit him.  Heller sped up.  It was a miss.

Another car shot sideways to strike him as he roared through a gap.  It was Car 9.

The car missed!

Another car coming up behind spun and struck Car 9.  The two spun through the fence!  Clouds of smoke!  The belated sound of the crash!

I'm trying to decide if this is as bad as podracing.  On the one hand there's no visual element to make things bearable, but at least it's not such a foregone conclusion that the protagonist will win.  After all, Anakin had to win that race to get everyone off the planet.  But here the event is so nebulously connected to the main plot that it doesn't matter as much whether Heller wins or loses.  If he does win now some contrived circumstances will stretch the plot out, and if he fails he has plenty of time to recover over the next six books.

Well those two "bomber" cars wreck, and the crowd gets its bloodsport when three ambulance drivers are killed while checking on them, so that's nice.  Heller takes another hit and this time Fancy-Dancy doesn't respond to his radio hailing, causing Gris to literally hug himself in glee.  Heller makes a pit stop, replaces the wheel, goes back on the track, gets shot again, and replaces a third wheel.  He now has only one spare wheel left.  Nail-biting tension.  Gris hugs himself again.  The Florida Chamber of Commerce hopes that anyone who wins a bet on today's race will come down to visit, where they'll be ripped-off painlessly.

But then a voice radios Heller that "My talk box got hit and number two took time."  Yes, Bang-Bang miraculously survived when Gris' sniper shot him in the radio, and managed to return the favor a little more lethally.  Gris assumes that because Bang-Bang is Italian he must've used a knife, even though he had a silenced rifle and has shown an appreciation for explosives, and for that matter we've seen Italian mobsters using everything from sawn-off shotguns to stilettos to pistols to vehicular combat in this book, so it's a stupid assumption.  To defend himself from Bang-Bang, Gris draws his Knife Section knife and locks the doors - yeah, that'll do the trick - until he realizes that Bang-Bang is calling in on the pit crew's radio, so he's not out stalking Gris.

Chapter Eight starts with more blistering satire of the media as Channel Six and Seven-Eighths repeats the "old man talking about the weather gag," then plays a jingle for Peegram's Corn Whiskey, and finally has the anchorman yelled at for cutting away from the race to do a slow-motion replay of a satisfying crash.  And Gris informs us that it's now around 3 pm.

Remember, the race started at around nine in the morning.  Those six hours have just flown by, haven't they?  Gris notes that the magical alien carburetor is scheduled to fail soon, because I guess the sabotage is just that reliable, and dependent solely on how long the device had been running rather than how hard it's been going.

The other drivers have given up on racing normally and are now intent on ramming Heller.  There are skids and near misses, then one car tries to slam into him only to be repelled by a flash of light that sends it spinning through the rail.  In case you're still wondering why Heller's wheels are electrified:

The TV did a replay.  It was a lightning bolt!  Car 10 had hit Heller's left front wheel and an electrical flash at least five feet in diameter had flared!

An actual bolt of lightning is actually quite thin, about a centimeter wide.  Presumably he meant the lightning bolt was five feet long.

The electrical surplus from the carburetor was being grounded in those wheels!  And any other car that touched them bled off the grounding in a lightning bolt!  

I'm curious as to why the other cars' rubber tires or metal chains and spikes can't similarly ground the energy being transferred to them from Heller's car.  Or how a lightning bolt could carry enough force to hurl a multi-ton car off a racetrack. 

Basher Benson was getting shakily out of Car 10.  He apparently had no idea what had happened except that he didn't want anything more to do with this race!

The radio sportscaster was trying to account for it and suddenly settled upon the explanation that it was the Whiz Kid's magnetic personality.

Now magnets might make more sense, like some nonsense that Heller's car has a powerful charge that's repulsing the other vehicles.  Also, these people are idiots.  Especially the referees who aren't reacting to Heller's car shooting lightning at the other vehicles.  And the other drivers, well, they're not sure what's going on, because "there are always sparks to some extent when metal is hammered against metal in a crash."  Another one tries to ram Heller and gets sent spinning out.

Again, the refs do nothing.  The crowd is of course going wild.  Gris is on the edge of his seat, possibly because he's been sitting there for almost twelve hours straight without getting food or stretching his legs or making a bathroom stop.

I was on the edge of my seat.  I had half an eye on the viewers and the other half on the stopwatch.  It was past three.

Was Heller going to win after all?

What about the other eye, Gris?  You've got one accounted for being split between two objects of interest, but what about the other?  What a thrilling cliffhanger to end the chapter on.

Back to Chapters Five and Six

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