Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Part Seventy-Nine, Chapter Three - What May or May Not Be Invasion Plans

Now that Too-Too's mommy is dead, Madison leaps into action!  In a few hours.

Four hours later Madison, in a hurtling Model 99, was hot on the trail.

Either "hot on the trail" of a man who's been in prison for the past indeterminate amount of time, or "hot on the trail" of some schemes and blackmail that are even older, and therefore, colder.

He had been very intrigued by the information that Gris had been "set up."  He also knew from recent past experience that the media here had a nasty idea that one should have documents and proof for stories.  While this was far from insurmountable--one could always forge and find false witnesses--it might save him time if he could get his hands on the real thing and, thanks to Too-Too, he was certain that, somewhere, a lot of evidence existed.

You'd think the Space CIA might be able to do some of that forgery stuff and allow Madison to get stuff in the papers that way, but then we'd miss out on all the drugged-up sex on Teenie's private island, and then what kind of book would we be reading?

Madison's trying to talk to Old Bawtch, but en route gets a call to report to Lombar Hisst instead at his office in Government City.  Luckily Flick knows the way.

"You can't miss it," said Flick.  "Upper end of the town, on the cliff above the River Wiel.  You can always tell it from the dead bodies in the streets around it."

"I hope you're joking," said Madison.

"Well, yes, actually I am," said Flick.  "He has a chute so he can dump them into the River Wiel."

As developed a planet as Voltar occasionally sounds like, you have to wonder whether those corpses end up in some downstream settlement's water supply, or if farmers notice them clogging the irrigation system from time to time.  And whether after thousands of years of this there's not a carpet of bones and soggy bits lining the river bottom, or dams formed from Voltarian remains.  And then you may wonder how the Apparatus hopes to keep such activities secret, or whether it's one of those not-secrets like how psychology rules Earth and Rockecenter used to run the planet.

Wait, did Heller do anything about psychology?  He killed its main puppet, but the whole machine is still there, right?  Or has he dismantled that by getting drugs decriminalized?

Getting distracted.  Madison et al fly to "the oldest and most decayed part of Government City, and the Apparatus, while not the oldest, was certainly the most decayed part of the government and had fallen heir to it."  The statues are "missing heads and legs," presumably reduced to torsos hovering over the ground.  We're also told that the Apparatus isn't all that old, "as things on Voltar go," but we're not given a more specific age.

Something is obviously up, given the vehicles of the Apparatus Command Staff parked out front, and sure enough Madison is dragged into a military meeting in an underground chamber more like a cave than an office.  "It also stank."  The red-uniformed generals of course look like Manco Devils, Hisst is similarly colored, and I applaud the author's restraint for not having the gathering lit by eerie torches while the screams of the damned echo into the chamber.

But then there's one of those moments that jars the reader out of the story, such as it is, as the narration assures us that the aforementioned generals look demonic "in the recorded strips of this meeting."  Ignoring the fact that the super secret subversive intelligence agency is keeping video records of its nefarious schemes, this is is presumably meant to explain how Monte Pennwell is able to assemble this turd of a tale after these events take place.  Yet just a page earlier we got to read about Madison's driver and the driver's footwoman bickering over whose uniform was getting moist from ogling the staff of Teenie's island psycho-sexual therapy resort, and I doubt Madison was keeping painstaking audio-visual records of that nonsense.  By trying to assist the reader's suspension of disbelief, the author instead sabotages it.

As for the topic of this meeting of devils and demons:

"This is Omaha" the staff officer said.  "According to earlier intelligence advices, it is a sort of military nerve center.  Estimates are that it will take a million men, after it is occupied, to hold the position and fan out eastward."

"A million men!" commented a general.  "That means no supplementary reserve."

For reference, the Allies fielded about five and a half million men in just the last two years of the European theater of World War II.  Also, why do you need to occupy the enemy's "nerve center," why can't you just blow it to hell?  You don't need it, you've got your own nerve center in orbit.

"Well, if we are denied the right to simply bomb New York..."

"That has to be denied," said Hisst.  "It would obliterate the installations that must be seized in operational condition in New Jersey.  That requires a solely infantry approach, moving through cities on a slaughter basis.  Are you afraid of casualties?" he asked the first general with a sneer.

Alright, a few things.  Why is the "slaughter basis" required?  Wouldn't it be easier to use a show of massive force to try and coax a surrender?  Sure, it might not work, but at least giving it a try could save an enormous amount of trouble.

Second, if you really are set on killing as many people as possible, don't you have any weapons that could do this more efficiently than a million men going about shooting folks?  Nerve gas, neutron bombs, black holes that shift the population thirteen minutes into the future, anything?  Also, do you not have any weapons capable of hitting New York without also hitting New Jeresy?

Thirdly, what needs to be seized in operational condition in New Jersey?  There is no intrinsic characteristic of the region that makes it essential to drug production; it has infrastructure for that purpose, yes, but an alien society capable of fabricating gold ought to be able to whip up a pharmaceutical factory in short order.  If it's a matter of expertise, why don't you abduct those people and take them to a factory you control, on your own planet, so you aren't reliant on one complex dozens of light-years away?

"No," said the first general. "I was simply hoping that some way the Army could be coerced into partici­pation.  We only have about four million troops.  When distribution to other continents is examined..."
"We could simply concentrate on the United States," said another general.

Four million alien space marines versus two million American soldiers, three hundred million civilians, and the Second Amendment.

"No, no, no," said a general with artillery badges.  "There are more than twelve nations that are nuclear armed, according to reports.  Failure to make this an infantry action on all continents could result in some hysterical nuclear involvement.  If the objectives of the chief are to be attained, we have to prevent their use of hydrogen bombs from one country to another across oceans.  I think you would find the objective areas totally contaminated and unusable."

So four million space marines have to launch multiple, simultaneous and devastating offensive deep strikes to secure an entire planet's nuclear stockpile, then somehow go on to achieve their actual objectives.  Or maybe the plan is to get those soldiers engaged in population centers as soon as possible, because who would nuke their own territory just to stop an alien aggressor from conquering the planet?

At about this time Madison's escort announces the Earthman's arrival.

All eyes swivelled to Madison.  (To do him justice, he might not have understood completely that what was under discussion was an invasion of Earth, for the meeting transcripts do not, of course, give internal thoughts of those speaking.  Madison's own logs shed no light on this.)

Another reminder that this tale was somehow assembled by a historian.  Also, he "might not have understood" that this was an invasion meeting?!  With talk about occupying Omaha, infantry slaughtering their way through cities, and worries of a global nuclear response?  Is Madison that stupid, Hubbard?

The generals start grilling him for information that it really would have been nice to extract from him ahead of time.  One asks Madison about the "thermal penetration potential" of an MX3 nuke, but Madison shrugs off the question with talk about how the program was canceled for being too expensive.  Another asks about potential anti-satellite (and therefore anti-spaceship) missiles, to which Madison replies that Russia might have some, he may have heard something like that in the news.  The aliens ask him to show him this "Russia," and he pulls up a map.  Yep, there it is.  That's a country called Russia all right.  The narration reminds us that Madison had no way of knowing that Russia had nobly been sacrificed in the name of world peace and wandering poles.

And that's it.  Lombar kicks everyone out, demanding an operational invasion plan by tomorrow based on the knowledge that 1) four million men will have to hold a whole planet and 2) keep it from using nukes, of which 3) the MX3 has been canceled, while 4) Russia exists and may have anti-spaceship defenses.

But Madison hangs around, asking about Gris, who Lombar complains is that cause of all this bother: the Blixo missed out its last drug shipment, and the lazy bastard - being the only agent on Earth tasked with keeping track of military stuff - never kept up his intelligence reports, so now Voltar is going in blind.  Lombar even tried to have Gris assassinated in prison, but all three attempts failed.

Madison insists that it's better to have Gris talking, and asks whether there's a reason Lombar doesn't want him to, which makes the guy laugh about Gris' name being on everything and how nothing could be proved, while the narration pipes in that Madison's notes mentioned that "with Lombar, he very often felt like he was dealing with someone who was quite insane."  If you'll think back to the start of the book, one of the first things Madison realized after meeting Lombar was that the guy was cuckoo, so this is totally superfluous information.  Was this chapter written immediately after Hubbard inserted the bits with Monte Pennwell or something?  Or did he forget about Monte until now and is belatedly trying to explain how the historian got his story right?

The publicist floats the idea of a public trial in the media, leading to a conviction in courts.  Lombar is more concerned with getting the Army and Fleet on his side so he can have some forces left to deal with the Calabar situation, but Madison assures him that PR can do that too, get Voltar's military "chasing after Heller like mad dogs!"  And even, as a reminder, make Lombar look like an emperor.  Guess Hisst forgot about that little moment.

Hisst's yellow eyes grew round and then began to glow.  He stood up, towering over Madison a foot.  He took one of Madison's hands in his and stroked it.  Then he turned and bawled toward the door, "CHIEF CLERK! GIVE THIS MAN MADISON EVERYTHING HE WANTS! EVERYTHING, YOU UNDERSTAND, OR I WILL HAVE YOUR HEAD!"

So Madison has been made Voltar's PR Czar... again.  He has the full support the Apparatus... again.  He has an unlimited budget... again.  But now he'll be using all of that and his PR skills to simultaneously make Gris miserable for Teenie's sake, make Lombar look imperial, turn the Fleet against it's favorite son, and most importantly of all, make Heller a famous outlaw so Mr. Bury back on Earth will be happy with Madison!  

See, we're not going in a circle, we're going in a tight outward spiral, so that each revolution brings us incrementally further along the plot.  We might get nauseous along the way, but I'm sure there were warnings to that effect at the start of the line to the ride.

Back to Chapter Two

Monday, December 30, 2013

Part Seventy-Nine, Chapter Two - Death by Magic Mail

I guess these chapters "justify" the existence of Teenie's private island and army of gigolos, in that by using them in conjunction with psychiatric drivel, drugs, and the hologram emitters in Madison's not-so-haunted apartment, the villainous protagonists were able to convince alien publishers to air their stories.  I just can't help but wonder if this is the most direct way to reach that objective, whether for example the blackmail material Madison was mentioned picking up from the Apparatus couldn't have done the job easier.

Anywho, Teenie's back and she's mad again.  That is to say, she's mad as usual.  Madison tries to show off his newspaper clippings, which don't contain anything about Gris.

"No, no.  This just shows the dawning of press control.  Right now they're just bragging about psychiatry.  Isn't it marvelous?  Some of this is front page!  It's never been done before in the history of Voltar!  Influencing their press."

Yes, the Apparatus, that enormously powerful, underhanded organization of clandestine evil, couldn't figure out a way to control the media until Madison came along and showed them how it's done.  With every chapter, the author methodologically undermines the menace of his own villains.

"Listen, buster, I'm helping you for just one reason.  You'll forget that to your sorrow!  I want that Gris spread-eagled on the block down there and hours and hours every day filled with his screams.  I've thought of things way beyond anything dreamed up by Pinch.  And all the way here from Palace City today, I've been thinking up new ones!  Oh, I'm MAD!"

Wait, I just realized: during Gris' "confession" he laments how much trouble Teenie would cause him after he shipped her off to Voltar.  Yeah, "Having no crystal ball or ways to read the horrible future to hand, I thought, with satisfaction, that that was the end of Teenie."  Except he ends his testimony right after he arrives in prison and starts writing it down, or in other words, before Teenie arrived on Voltar, because remember he made the trip on Heller's super-fast luxury tugboat.  Yet he still somehow knew she'd go after him after arriving.

Oh dear.  Is there a plot problem in Mission Earth?

As for why Teenie's mad, it's Too-Too.  The catamite is near catatonic and brought in on a stretcher, forcing Teenie to use "mouth-to-mouth" to revive him with secondhand marijuana smoke.  See, the delay and self-interest of Captain Bolz messed up the base's mail service, which means that Gris' "magic mail" order went through, which means Too-Too's response was too late, which means "HIS MOTHER HAD BEEN MURDERED!"  Oh, how terrible!  A family member we've never met of a minor character we don't like has been slain off-screen!

Too-Too continues to spill the space beans about Gris' horrible misdeeds, and we learn that despite being ordered by him to kill some members of his office, Too-Too instead tattled to Lombar Hisst, which is what got Gris in trouble.  So old Bawtch is alive, and only got transferred to a new office!

...You remember Old Bawtch, right?  He was - you know what, he doesn't matter.

"Now you've heard it," Teenie said, her eyes smoldering as she looked at Madison over Too-Too's head.  "Don't let any grass grow under your feet.  GET THAT GRIS!"

Madison grinned.  With material like this, how could he miss?  It would open the door to Heller with a crash.

And as always, the author has to staple on a reminder that somehow this all has to do with Heller, that there's an overarching plot to all these swerves across the narrative landscape, honest.

Back to Chapter One 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Part Seventy-Nine, Chapter One - Madison the Voyeur

So that's what's happening on Earth: evacuation, vitrification, and a transvestite child molester's promotion to saint.  Let's return our gaze to Voltar and be reminded why looking away from it is so refreshing.

Madison's watching from an upper-story window of Teenie's island mansion, chortling to himself about, you guessed it, all the Heller headlines he'll be able to make.  He's there to give Teenie some good news, but the girl has been "unaccountably delayed" for a chapter, allowing the author to spend this one on... well, watch.

Down in the valley below, the island's inhabitants are tending to a crop of marijuana... Hubbard.  Stop reminding me how stupid it is for the Apparatus to rely on one company and one farm on one planet for the drug supply it hopes to use to conquer the galaxy.  The kicker of course is that the Apparatus is up in arms over disruptions to that drug supply, yet if they went back to Earth they'd find that the United States has decriminalized the stuff, Rockecenter or no, so it's probably even easier to get a hold of.

Anyway, Madison beholds the product of Teenie's instruction: a news publisher's wife strolls along in a mask, a "gallant young officer" approaches, bows, makes some hushed conversation.  The woman laughs and the two stroll into a secluded nook on the palace grounds, followed by a "chorder-beat" musician providing some mood music, and then...

I wonder if there's something in Voltar's star, some radiation effect going on?  I was mightily bemused by what happens in these books' "love" scenes, what with random items exploding as a euphemism for bodily fluids being splashed around.  This weirdness was limited to Gris, but now:

Presently, as he expected, he saw the woman's gown being laid gently on the bench end.

The musician was now behind a tree, his back to the nook, but the violin music played on.

In the limbs above, a branch of blossoms began to weave.

The musician's face was watchful, intent. He was playing faster now.

Blossoms exploded and the petals showered down.

The music now was mild and slow.

An attendant in silver livery who bore a silver tray sped across the terrace.  He entered the nook.

Shortly the gray-blue smoke of marijuana rose.

The violin music played on.

Wait, did this sort of thing happen when Gris was raping, statutory or otherwise, women back on Earth?  Maybe it's not due to Voltar's star, maybe it's some sort of energy field emitted by Voltarians in heat?  I propose some good old-fashioned alien autopsies until we get to the bottom of this.

The next publisher's wife/hunky officer pair is interrupted by a second man, who asks if he may "cut in."  More blossoms explode.  Yes, Teenie has succeeded in turning this private island into a pleasure retreat, where key women are "cured" of their sexual frustrations and partake of lots of marijuana and LSD.

Madison stole a peek at the clipping book he was carrying.  The first batches of women were long since returned home.  Just to test his muscle he was getting psychiatry good coverage.  

But he's not running Heller stuff just yet, because.

Page after page contained news stories about the marvelous cures it was effecting, how magnificent Crobe was, how misguided any other form of treatment was and how all rival ideas should be crushed out.  Life had become impossible for publishers and editors unless they ran columns and columns about this marvelous new science imported from Blito-P3!

And now, if you know Madison, he's going to spend a few sentences telling us about how this is precisely how it works on Earth, and how cunning psychology is for doing this, and blah de blah de blah

Oh, there was no doubt of it that psychiatry had all the answers.  They had won press domination on Earth the very same way: get the wives of the publishers and editors on the couch and being liberally (bleeped) and you got all the column inches you could ever want!  And woe betide any competitor in the field: he would be slaughtered!

I thought at one point it was psychology pushing drugs that led to its control of the media... or was it simply cash?  This story's been told so many times in so many ways it's hard to keep track.

A voice behind him jarred into his mood.  "What the hell have you become?  Some God (bleeped) voyeur?"

Yep.  Which is odd, because Madison is supposed to be repulsed by the mere thought of getting naked with a woman who isn't his dear old mum. 

Back to Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Six

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Six - The Delay and Self-Interest of Bolz

Now, Bolz is launching last because he's still waiting for that shipment of not-quite-amphetamines so those poor addicted Lords on Voltar can get let down gently.  But I can't help but wonder if that should be secondary to making sure he gives Lombar Hisst the letter luring him away from Earth to his defeat on Calabar.  He already missed his last shipment of drugs anyway, in favor of smuggling hooch, so those poor little Lords are probably going through withdrawal.

Maybe Heller should've browbeaten Bolz into getting that letter back posthaste.  Or maybe he should have given it to a trusted subordinate to take to Voltar, like one of the base personnel who thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced space bread.  Hell, he's got the superfast tugboat, maybe he could've zipped back to Voltar himself, blown a raspberry over the videophone, and skedaddled on to Calabar before Lombar realized what was happening.

But, plot.

Bolz is now king of the Apparatus hole in the ground, and doesn't feel like following Heller's orders just yet.  Over Odur's protests, Bolz gives a crewman an order to load those drugs when they arrive, meets up with Ters (evil laugh) the limo driver, and heads off to Istanbul to see a widow friend of his.  And now we know why Gris' driver was never punished for his crimes, so Bolz doesn't have to call a taxi.

Poor, abused Odur gets to pace in the hangar all next day and next night, until a drunken Bolz staggers back at two in the morning with a load of counterfeit Turkish scotch and lipstick smeared all over him.  They get loaded up and ready for take-off in an hour, but wouldn't you know it?  Right when they're about to leave:

There was an abrupt roar overhead.

Wonderingly, thinking a freighter might have come back, Bolz got down off the ladder and stared up at the hole through the mountaintop.

He froze.

The black tail of a warship was sliding in!

Just imagine the view from outside, a spaceship pointed upright, sticking its ass into a mountaintop.

Plain upon it was the symbol that looked like a fanged snake.  And some letters!


The hulk, too big for this hangar, came down with bristling guns.  It hit the floor with a thud.

So the spaceship too big to land in the hangar just landed in the hangar.  Uh...?

However on Earth they landed, a hundred armed soldiers soon flood into the hangar, seizing the Blixo's captain, crew, and catamite.  A Captain Flay introduces himself and demands - okay, let's stop a minute.  All these Apparatus officers have names like Flay or Stabb or Maim or whatever.  So is this a translation convention?  Their names are really zt!Rmdi and Illillib, the Voltarian words for "flay" and "stab," and they're being rendered in English for our benefit?  Unlike other characters such as Jettero or Prahd, whose names have no English equivalent?  Or do these evil characters just happen to have violent-sounding names?  It's a staggering coincidence either way.

What am I saying, of course the Apparatus is so self-consciously Eeeevil that their soldiers would pick violent appellations in an attempt to strike terror in the hearts of the righteous.  Like how Soltan Gris became... never mind.

(editor's note from the future: well, the alien publisher behind this story has changed some names to protect the innocent, so the question is why they decided to give the Apparatus characters such stupid names)

Anyway, Capt. zt!Rmdi demands to know what's all this then, and where's the rest of the base personnel.  Bolz tries to tell him he's carrying drugs for Voltar, but of course the soldiers find all the scotch and conclude he's a smuggler.  Odor squeaks that he's got a message for Lombar, but his identoplate reads "clerk," not courier, so obviously he's lying.  The captain decides to interrogate Odur by having his men bend him backwards against a blastgun.

"Make him talk!" said Flay.

They pulled on Oh Dear harder.

"You better talk!  You know where they have gone well enough.  Don't lie again.  TALK!"

Oh Dear went into a high-pitched keening as his spine stretched and cracked.  He was able to get out, "I have a despatch.  I have a despatch.  I have a despatch!  I must get it through!"

"To Hells with your despatches," said Flay.

Oh Dear had fainted.

He was probably lying about that letter anyway.  No need to look for it.  Clerks never carry messages anyway.

Flay gave a signal and soldiers grabbed Bolz.  One of them pulled his head back with a handful of hair and another hit him in the body with a fist.

No, not the body!  That's the worst place to get hit!

Bolz grunted with the force of it.

"Where have they gone?" demanded Flay.

"They did not tell us!" cried Bolz.

The colonel snapped his fingers and an officer put a light in his hand.  Flay walked up to Bolz and shined the light in his eye.  "Are you lying to us?"

Bolz writhed, trying to get away from the light.  The only thing which was registering with him was that this colonel might discover that he intended to keep this base for his own use.

"His pupillary reaction," said Flay, "shows that he is lying!  Hit him!"

Uh huh.  That... sure is a way of determining who's telling the truth.  But hey, you know what might be more reliable than the "if his pupil contracts from a bright light, he's lying" method?  Something we whipped up on Earth - I know, who'd have thought? - called the polygraph.  It's not close to perfect, and some folks consider it pseudoscience that has no place in a legal investigation, but others swear by it.  It's not like we have a "hypno-helmet" that might force a prisoner to tell the truth or anything.  That'd be real useful during interrogations, boy!

Captain zt!Rmdi continues to yell at and hit Bolz, Bolz continues to scream that he doesn't know anything, and if you imagine this taking place in a CIA black site in Uzbekistan it becomes uncomfortable commentary on our wonderful "War on Terror."  But then a meaty fist just happens to connect with the detonator in Bolz' pocket - of course he was carrying the thing he had no intention of using! - in just the right way.

There was a searing flash throughout the hangar!

The Death Battalion, the warship, the Blixo, the crew, Captain Bolz and Oh Dear glowed, suddenly outlined in incandescence. They shifted color upward from red to yellow to violet. They went black. They turned to silica, momentarily holding shape, then they became molten glass.

No one in the base was left alive.

Maybe Voltarians... and Antimancans... and Flistens... just have a lot more iron in their bodies?  Even though Heller referred to them all as "humans."  So do these bombs make the iron in a victim's body spread, so their entire body is transformed to sand?  Or can it turn water, meat and bone into sand too?  If so, what's the point of going on about the iron?  Or is the idea that the iron in our body is all that's keeping us from drying up and blowing away?

The wall boxes that held the beams in place turned into sand which, under the ferocity of heat, turned to liquid dribble.

So the bombs turn them to sand, then explode anyway?  Again, what's the advantage of not using a more conventional explosive?

And then with a shuddering roar, the walls of the hangar twisted and began to cave in.

The slide of rock went on for quite a while.

Fantastic heat fused the inside of the mountain.

Then there was nothing left of the Earth base.

Job well done!  Instead of using a former Apparatus cave as a hideout, any space pirates would have to use one of the countless other caves on the planet as a hideout, caves that the Apparatus wouldn't know about because they weren't a former base site.

And buried there, because of the delay and self-interest of Bolz, lying under the pile of shuddering glass which had been Oh Dear and under the countless tons of boiling silica above it, was the ash of the despatch which had been designed to stave off an invasion of Earth.

It would never be delivered.

So is there another Apparatus fleet en route?  Lombar sent that warning saying he'd invade if the drug supply ever got interrupted, in response to the drug supply getting interrupted, which made Heller and the others assume that the Class One invasion was already underway in response to the infraction they were just informed about, because Lombar is that stupid.  But we've only ever seen this disciplinary Death Battalion sent to Earth, and now that their targets have all fled or died, they don't have any reason to stick around.

Ha, except that the Death Battalion was just one-shotted.  Since it's quite unlikely that they were smart enough to use the buddy system, leave someone in orbit to monitor the situation and send word back and all that, now we get to wonder how long it will take Lombar to realize his first reprisal attempt was swallowed up by a traitorous planet, and what will happen next.  Man, it sure is exciting when everyone's incompetent and has the logistical skill of a bag of onions.

Wait a minute, if everyone in this chapter died in a sandy/fiery explosion, how did Monte Pennwell, who we must remember is writing this for us, know what they were saying or thinking?  Maybe the Blixo suffered an engine failure before takeoff, panicked at the sight of the Death Battalion, and triggered the sand bombs as a "take you down with me" measure?  My suspension of disbelief can only go so far, Hubbard!

Back to Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Five 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Five - Sand Bombs

Now that France has been put in its place, Heller works on dealing with the Afyon base itself.  Regulations state that you can't abandon such an installation, not so much because the natives might uncover evidence of an alien infiltration, but to keep anyone from using the place for piracy or smuggling.  It'd be a real shame if a primitive civilization that hasn't gone further than its own moon managed to capture a "hidden" base you knew the exact location and layout of, after all.

To do this, Heller uses "metal-disintegrator" mines, which "cause an atomic shift of heavier metals to silica: with a surge of enormous heat from the converted atoms, every piece of metal that comprised the hangar area would become sand."  The result is a "flash of fire" and wall collapse that would be ignored as just another earthquake, quite different from what would happen if Heller dirtied his hands with our crude Earth explosives!

And by "use" such devices I mean that Heller rigs the place to blow and hands the detonator off to his prisoner, Captain Bolz, who hates the Fleet in general and Heller in particular.  Yes, Heller announces that he's going to leave first and will therefore trust this antagonistic smuggler with the fate of the base, telling the captain to press the big red button once the Blixo leaves. 

"What will happen?" said Bolz.

"Well, don't experiment," said Heller.  "The Blixo had better be up there a couple miles when you do it.  Every piece of metal in this hangar will disintegrate.  A human body contains a lot of iron

A whopping four to five grams.  That's like .15 ounces!

and anybody standing around will also become sand.  So don't leave anybody in here."

And the ship is supposed to be a "couple miles" away when he triggers these devices.  How far away is, say, Gris' villa from the base?  How many bystanders might end up vitrified by these fancy space bombs?

Bolz of course smiles, agrees to Heller's orders, and privately vows to do no such thing.  He wants to keep smuggling booze in from Earth, you see.  So that's the reason for the regulation of base destruction - because this mighty space empire's intelligence wing is so undisciplined, such a bunch of thieves and scoundrels, that they're liable to desert and run a pathetic little smuggling operation out of an abandoned hole in the ground.

Because none of these Voltarians seems interested in trying to produce their own supply of these goods.  Can't produce drugs on Voltar, have to ship them in from Earth.  Can't buy a book on wine-making and grow some booze on Manco, have to ship it in from Earth.  At least European traders tried to get spices and such to grow back home.

Heller's farewells with Izzy and Bang-Bang are so important that the author spends a whole sentence on them, in which we're told Heller called them to say that he was taking a brief trip, "and rang off quickly so that they would not suspect this 'little trip' was forever."  I'm sure he had tears in his eyes afterward.  It was probably a very touching moment.

Then he gives Odur, who the narration only calls "Oh Dear," a letter for Lombar Hisst!  The catamite is quite reluctant to touch such a dangerous message, until Heller points out that the consequences of not delivering it would be even worse.  He also makes a point about showing Odur and Bolz a sick old man in a bacta tank being wheeled into the luxury tugboat by a doctor, which does not raise their interest in the slightest.

And then it turns out there is one Voltarian who is trying to reproduce something from Earth - Heller hears some yowling and learns that the Countess Krak has decided that it's mean for Mister Calico to fly all the way home without getting laid, and so has brought along an assortment of other calicoes, including a few males, to avoid inbreeding in this starting population of nine specimens.

Heller huddles with the officers who will be piloting the six freighters assembled to evacuate the base and finalizes the plan.  He'll be going ahead to set things up and will meet them at a rendezvous point near the star Glar, a seven-week voyage for those pathetic non-tug engines.  Prince Mortiiy's territory, in other words - Heller thinks that a single, small installation's worth of supplies and personnel will be welcome on Calabar, a big developed planet that's been holding its own against the Confederacy and Apparatus for years now.

He admits that this defection is partially to save Earth from Lombar's wrath by turning his attention elsewhere, but Heller also thinks that without Fleet or Army support, Lombar will "shatter himself against the hundred-thousand-foot peaks of Calabar."  And that's why that letter he left in the untrustworthy care of Captain Bolz is so very important - it's a big "neener neener come and get me" to Lombar Hisst. 

Heller waved a hand to the captain of the Blixo, "Be sure you have a good passage to Voltar!" he shouted. He went into the tug's airlock, closed it and sent the Prince Caucalsia spaceward ho!

Boy, it sure would be bad if Bolz ignored Heller's commands about destroying the base and hurrying home to deliver the letter, wouldn't it?  But for that to happen Bolz would have to be some sort of self-serving pirate who ignored his mission to ferry drugs so he could cram in more contraband scotch.  The sort of person Heller would have to be a complete idiot to trust, in other words.

Back to Chapter Four 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Four - (Bleep) France

So, packing up a secret base for relocation?  Kind of a bother.

There seemed, suddenly, to be a thousand details to what had looked like a simple undertaking.  

"Simple," yeah.  It's just one base being moved, come on guys!

Family connections who had been unaware of extraterrestrial husbands and domestic connections who had never known who their employers really were had to be cared for somehow, at least decently set up in life. 

Huh.  So it's fine to, you know, marry one of the natives, leading to situations where they might hear you mumble some Flisten in your sleep, or catch sight of your identoplate in a load of laundry, but we're supposed to be worried about that Code Break nonsense.

Faht Bey remarked that the Apparatus would simply have killed them and then hastily said he was just commenting, when he saw Heller's look.

That sure sounds like the Apparatus alright, be sloppy up until the point there's danger, then start killing people in an attempt to cover your ass. 

The New York branch of the Apparatus gets shut down and absorbed into the Afyon outfit, while all those doctors Prahd has been training are turned loose and set up with funding for drug rehab operations.  As Heller puts it, "Maybe we can undo some of the damage that's been done," just three chapters after approving of Congress' attempt to legalize drugs.

But there's one lingering plot point that hasn't been resolved yet.  The KGB Colonel Formerly Known as Utanc is still in the holding cells, and since Heller only held onto him for a hypothetical trial of Soltan Gris, who they're sure is dead, they don't have anything to do with Gaylov.  Krak reminds Heller of the prisoner's existence, and kicks off a truly baffling page.

"Well, he hasn't got a country anymore," said Hel­ler.  "He can't be very dangerous. 

Yeah, no superiors to report to, nothing to lose, nothing but a bunch of impotent anger and deadly spy skills.  No danger at all!

Put a hypnohelmet on him and suppress his memory of the base and let him go."

"It's not that simple," said the Countess.  "There's the two little boys he corrupted.  They're caving in, nobody can do a thing with them. 

The hypnohelmet.  Heller just mentioned the hypnohelmet.  Use that. 

I had an idea.  France has been exporting an awful lot of drugs."


"What's that got to do with Colonel Gaylov?" said Heller.  "He was also exporting heroin.  From here.  To keep the international KGB network running."

"Well, those that commit crimes like that," said the Countess Krak, "will often turn completely around and campaign against such deeds. 

What?  So drug runner + a few weeks in jail = hardcore anti-drug crusader?  How does Krak know this "fact?"  What experiences has she gone through that led her to believe this is how criminals work?

What I want to do is send Colonel Gaylov to France with the two little boys."

"You must be awfully mad at France.  They'd corrupt the whole nation!"

"No, I don't think so," said the Countess. "You see, I've been talking to the colonel and he's absolutely spinning with the glory of it."

"Of what?"

"To show up in France and use the old KGB network to convince everybody he's the reincarnation of Joan of Arc.  I didn't even touch the helmet.  He's sure he can be the greatest Joan of Arc that ever lived!"

Can we start over?  Okay.

There's this Soviet colonel, a spy who infiltrated an alien base and was only interested in pinching some drugs from it.  Also, he's a gay transvestite child molester.  Anyway, he gets exposed and imprisoned for a month or two, and now has decided he's Jeanne d'Arc, one of France's national heroines.  Krak wants them to not do anything to try and remove his memories of this alien base, but instead dump him off in France, with those two children who she just said are corrupted into sexual deviants, by the same colonel they'll presumably be sharing a room with.

Why is this good?!  How does this benefit the "heroes?!"  How idiotic would Heller have to be to agree to

Heller gave her a sizable draft on the Grabbe-Manhattan Bank in Paris, to be paid out to Gaylov, month by month for years.
When she put him and the two boys on the plane the following morning, there was a holy gleam in ex-Utanc's eye.  Standing there in a silver travelling gown, he/she said, "You are an angel and I bless the day I met you.  I can in truth say that I was visited by the Lord of Hosts on high.  France is about to become the holiest and most drugless place on Earth."  And they were gone.

And that appears to be that.

I guess it's a joke?  "Once upon a time, there was a pedophile.  So I sent him to France with two little boys!  And he was dressed up like Joan of Arc!"  Because it makes absolutely no sense from a plot standpoint, and is completely out of character for Krak, defender of sexual decency and scrambler of human minds.

This is a stupid, stupid book.

The last bit of the chapter is Heller calling Babe Corleone to say that the wedding is unfortunately canceled due to things getting "pretty urgent."  Babe takes this to mean that they need to get a Justice of the Peace before the pregnancy becomes obvious, and orders her "son" to name her "grandchild" after either her or Holy Joe.  And also to "get that beautiful countess into bed and resting as soon as you're hitched and you leave her alone until she delivers."  I guess she's worried that sex will injure the baby?  Wives have no purpose while they're pregnant?  Who knows, who cares.

"Yes, ma'am."

"All right, then.  And come back when the coast is clear and she can be seen in public again.  You're a dear boy, Jerome, but you sure as hell take a lot of guidance.  Keep your nose clean, kid."  There was an audible sniff.  "I got to run off now, something's in my eyes.  Bye-bye, son."

Heller's own eyes, as he hung up, were wet.  He doubted that he would ever see her again.

Oh no not Babe Corleone how terrible it would be if we never saw her again.

Man.  So much wrong with such a short chapter.  Hubbard's efficient, at the very least.  In some cases.  Not when it comes to story pacing, obviously.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, December 23, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Three - Consulting the Big Book of Backstory

Now that it looks like there might actually be consequences to foiling the evil plan of the evil Apparatus, Heller's downright grim as he paces Gris' former Turkish villa.

For weeks the Countess Krak had been after him to give some serious thought to their plight but had made no penetration in his easygoing attitude.  She was learning something about trying to live with a personality like his: with peril a constant companion, a combat engineer took joy in life when he could and tended to shrug off dangers he considered minor.  But once he conceived that something should be done about a situation, his dedication to getting it handled was a little awe-inspiring.

So none of that "be polite, be efficient, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet" nonsense, the way of the combat engineer is to cheerfully ignore a "minor" danger like a reprisal by the conspiracy trying to take over your government up until you have definite proof that it exists, leaving you to desperately slap something together at the last minute to try and deal with it.

Krak's still hopeful that her future hubby will decide to abandon Earth to its fate, but instead he starts asking about that Prince Mortiiy currently leading the civil war on Calabar.  She has "nothing good" to say about him, but Heller replies "Good, bad, what does it matter?"  So she goes to fetch that super comprehensive Compendium that Gris imprisoned her with for no reason other than it would come in handy now, where it will provide more than two full pages of backstory.

Mortiiy, the book tells us, is the youngest of the emperor's three sons, and as such was allowed to have a Fleet career, where he distinguished himself by getting into brawls and receiving three court-martials, including one where he struck and killed a superior officer.  But you know how it goes, "not tried due to Royal lineage," wouldn't dare to suggest that the people who run the empire are bound by its laws.

This all changed ten years ago when Mortiiy's oldest brother... uh, Nameless, died in a tragic flying limousine accident, and Mortiiy was recalled from killing his superiors in the Fleet to start princing it up.  And while he supported his other brother Glit as the new heir to the throne, at one dinner he had too much to drink and accused "his father, Cling" of conspiring to kill Nameless, laying out a "wild theory" that a technician had sabotaged the car by his order.  "His father, Cling" suggested that they question the technician in question, but of course Mortiiy had already killed the guy in a grief-filled rage.

Uh, publishers of the Compendium?  Sure you wanna print disturbing rumors and conspiracy theories about the monarch offing his own children?  These guys can totally murder you with absolutely no consequences, after all.

Anyway, that incident ended with Mortiiy under house arrest (murder is fine, but don't sass your dad), and then five years ago Glit was found dead after a sudden illness.  Upon being informed that he was now heir, Mortiiy attacked and injured the two Lords playing messenger, then killed some more non-Royal and therefore unimportant bystanders on his way to his father's throne room, where he accused Cling of filicide in front of the whole court, renounced his part in the succession of the "throne drenched in family blood," took a potshot at His Majesty, killed his way out of the chamber, and stole a flying tank to make his escape.  Which leads us to today, with Mortiiy revolting on Calabar and the Lords planning a conclave to decide who should be heir now that the direct line is either dead or banished.

And that's the backstory of the rebel we've been hearing about since Book One!  The reason for the succession crisis that forms the bedrock of the plot!  Glad the author find room to squeeze it in before the end of the story.

"So you see, Jettero," said the Countess when she finished reading, "if you are thinking of taking His Majesty to Calabar and joining the rebel forces you'd seal his fate.  Mortiiy would simply kill him."

"Mortiiy is not a madman," said Heller.

Uh huh.  Firstly, that has nothing to do with what Krak just said.  Secondly, that seems pretty damn inaccurate given how many people Mortiiy's killed for no good reason.  Or maybe Heller's just saying that yeah, Mortiiy has a murderous temper, but he isn't what you'd call insane?  Just a Royal like good ol' Ivan the Terrible, or Vlad ČšepeČ™.

"He'll do until one comes along," said the Countess.  "He is no longer in line for the succession.  The whole fighting force of the Apparatus, as we heard when we were on Voltar, is engaged in a full-scale attack to wipe him out."

I'm honestly not sure what Krak is saying here, whether she's arguing or agreeing with Heller.

Heller doesn't even respond, and instead marches out to talk to Captain Bolz, who is still upset that the base has gone Fleet.  Heller asks that he take a cargo of drugs back to Voltar, then uses his Rockecenter connections to the I. G. Barben pharmaceutical company to whip up a ton of tablets that are half-and-half antihistamine and methadone, but labeled as amphetamines, and which ought to act sort of like amphetamines while counteracting the effects of heroin.  You know, to help those drug-addled Lords withdraw more easily.

Then he goes over to Faht Bey who informs him that they've got five working freighters, and Heller orders that they "Disassemble the base and load it and all personnel."  Now, the two Apparatus orders they read last chapter specifically mentioned that the Afyon area would be spared the Class One assault.  Heller's decision to evacuate the base will save them from the Death Company battalion on its way to purge that base of any subversive elements, but he doesn't know about that battalion.  So evidently Heller's cheated by reading ahead.

"It will take days," said Faht Bey.

"I hope not," said Heller. "If we do this right and we are quick, we can save this planet."

And if you'd taken these threats seriously all those weeks ago, you could already have been done with your defensive preparations.  But that of course is not how those easygoing, vivacious space commandos roll.

I'd like to point out that one of the many advantages of democracy over an imperial monarchy is that succession crises rarely come down to a choice between a decrepit old invalid or a murderous conspiracy theorist.  If the President chokes on a pretzel you've got a Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, the Senate's President Pro Tem, the Secretary of State, and so on, until the Postmaster General's taking charge of the country's irradiated ruins.

Wait, they changed that in 1971?  Aww. 

Back to Chapter Two

Friday, December 20, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Two - Old News

Wonder why Heller feels the need to keep his video phone secret?  He's already beaming energy from a spatial anomaly and was seen flying around on a space sled.  Compared to that, a phone with both audio and visual is pretty mundane.

Anyway, Faht Bey is on the secret viewer-phone, and while he doesn't have any news about a certain patient of Dr. Prahd's, he does need to see Heller in person as soon as possible.  Heller and Krak spend taxpayer money on a superfast Air Force plane instead of using that luxury spaceship we spent so much of Book One on.  Krak insists on coming along because she just knows something terrible has happened, but once they arrive in Turkey she stays back at the villa instead of coming with Heller to Faht Bey's office to see what's the matter.  Huh.

Turns out the Blixo came in last night, presumably after leaving Voltar shortly before Heller and Krak did their in-and-out at the imperial palace, and was carrying Odur as a courier.  Of course it's impossible that anyone beamed any messages to it, or used a faster ship to catch up and hand over some more recent correspondence.  So we've got some out-of-date old mail to read!  We can learn for the nth time what that evil Apparatus was up to!

The first letter is to Gris, ordering him to make a report on Earth's defenses, "numbers of troops and populations to be slaughtered," potential pockets of resistance, and so forth.  I'm pretty disappointed Gris had to flee the planet, because we missed out on watching him scrambling around the world like a headless chicken, desperately trying to gather information about the world's militaries, getting distracted by a pair of breasts, and slapping together an inaccurate report at the last minute after receiving a few death threats to do his damn job from an anonymous assassin.  Then the Apparatus forces would've shown up, bombed Chicago to take out Al Capone and his deadly gangsters, and gotten their asses handed to them.

The second note is an announcement to the Apparatus general staff that Lombar Hisst had determined that "forces are internally at work on reference planet inimical to our interests," so if the shipments of drugs ever stop arriving from Earth, all the forces on Calabar are to redeploy and launch a Class One assault!  And that's... worse than a Class Two?  Everything on Earth is to be annihilated except for the opium farms on Afyon and the I.G. Barben pharmaceutical factory in New York.  Just a vast, corpse-choked wasteland dotted by those two little drug oases, because again, the Apparatus doesn't want to produce any of these vital resources on one of the 110 planets in the Confederacy, it demands that it be totally dependent on imports from those specific companies in those specific parts of Earth.

You know the situation is serious because Hisst declared that these preparations would take place without the cooperation of the Army or Fleet, and worst of all, would "Ignore the Invasion Schedule."  Yes, things are so dire that these aliens are going to plan a war based on their needs and the current situation, not according to a timetable drawn up by some dead bastards thousands and thousands of years ago.

Since the Blixo put in, Captain Bolz came along too, and he's under guard and furious that everyone in the base is now wearing a Fleet uniform.  He explains that when he arrived on Voltar, the drugs were on his ship's manifest, but of course not in the cargo hold, because Heller knows drugs are bad should be decriminalized and stopped the Afyon base from shipping any more home last book... wait, no, Bolz wasn't at the base when Heller took over, because he's outraged everyone's in Fleet uniforms.  So he missed out on an amphetamine shipment because he stuffed his cargo bay full of contraband "whisky" instead of the vital supplies he was supposed to be delivering.  Thus continuing the theme that the Apparatus is too incompetent to pose a threat to anyone but themselves, regardless of what the author insists.

Finally we meet the person carrying some of these messages, our friend the catamite Odur, who is convinced that Heller is going to use his Royal Officer authority to execute him, begs him to deliver that "magic mail" so his mother doesn't get killed, and when it turns out nobody has to die after all, spills the beans on Gris.  He was supposed to pester Gris to finish his report and return with it, and had a message that Gris was due to be Apparatus Chief once Lombar promoted himself to rule the Confederacy, which we've known since like Book One.

With that interview concluded, Heller bumps into Krak, who suddenly is in the base, and just finished interviewing KGB Colonel Gaylov nee Utanc for reasons that will be revealed soon and are appallingly stupid.  Heller gives her the news - Krak's "woman's intuition" was right, Lombar is "crazy insane" (the worst kind of insane!), and the Apparatus is on its way to blow up the planet except for two tiny parts that produce drugs.

"Then we've got to get off it right away," said the Countess.  "We and you-know-who must not be here when they crack it up."

"And waste all the work I've been doing for a year?" said Heller.  "This is a nice planet."

"Opinions differ," said the Countess Krak.  "Psychology, psychiatry, perversions beyond belief and a population that doesn't even raise its voice when some nut like Rockecenter is ruining it.  It's not worth saving, Jettero.  We'd better get a move on."

Guess Krak lived a sheltered life, free from the knowledge of what Queen Hora got up to with shock collars and electrified whips on her private island.

Heller wants to stand and fight, of course, protecting His Majesty and planet Earth alike.  The question is how much time he has to prepare.  Faht Bey estimates it'll take three months for the Apparatus forces to make the voyage, since it'll take a few weeks for the first post-Heller-takeover freighter to deliver its cargo of not-drugs to Voltar.

But Heller counters that they may not even have five days, and that Bolz's cargo of not-drugs could have triggered the Apparatus invasion.  Which would mean that, after receiving no drugs, the Apparatus sent back some messages warning of the consequences of a missed drug shipment, as well as an order for its agents to create a detailed invasion plan of Earth, and at the same time dispatched that invasion fleet which would arrive less than a week after the Earth base got those messages warning of the invasion fleet's arrival.  Which is a whole new level of stupid, and absolutely in character for these chuckle(bleeps). 

"Steady, steady," said Heller.  "I admit this is quite a problem.  We've got to make sure Prahd's patient is secure, we've got to move this base and we've got to safeguard this planet."

Why do you have to move the base?  It's one of the two places they are explicitly not going to blow to hell.

"What?" said the Countess Krak.  "Try to stand off the whole Apparatus fighting force?  Please, Jettero, please.  Don't try to save this planet!"

"Come on dear, you already killed a hundred million of these savages, what does the rest matter?"

"I'll come up with something," said Heller.  "And make no mistake.  Whatever else happens, I am going to make every effort to save this planet."

Just fly around in your tugboat and use your hologram to make everyone shoot each other.  Or bring a comet nearby and wait for the enemy ships to crash into it.

"Oh," said the Countess Krak in a voice of despair, looking at the set expression on Heller's face.

Of course, you may have noticed that they're all fixated on the Apparatus fleet invading because of the drugs, and not Krak and Heller's raid on Voltar, which is what they were worrying about causing an invasion up until now.  Or you might remember that Lombar ordered a reprisal in the last book after Heller slung his spaceship into the ground.  In other words,

None of them knew that none of their estimates were correct.  Just four days short of arriving, an Apparatus Death Battalion was approaching with orders to find any hostile influence at the base and destroy it.  That happened to include, at that instant, every Voltarian on Earth excepting only the Blixo, its crew, Captain Bolz and Oh Dear.  This was no major invasion, not yet, but it could be the preliminary of mass slaughter.  Lombar would go crazy for revenge against the planet for getting in the way of his ambitions.

The wings of death hovered over Earth.

Which is to say, over the Voltarians on Earth, and screw those guys.

So that's the chapter, a bunch of out-of-date letters and stuff we already knew about.

Back to Chapter One 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter One - Heller Still Isn't Worried

Now that we've set the stage for Madison destroying Voltar with PR, psychology and drugs, let's see how well Heller and Krak are doing back on Earth, to deepen the shock when they return home and see that there's a musical about Heller robbing banks, when he certainly did not rob any banks!  Though he did hand control of one of the world's greatest and richest cities over to a mob boss.  And cheated the stock market until he was able to more or less steal the world's financial foundation out from under it.  And killed a lot of people...

It's late August in New York, and Krak and Heller are chilling out amongst the shrubs of the "landscaped terrace" of their penthouse.  Krak's still worried, trying to get Heller to remember that a few days from now, the first warships from Voltar could be arriving, assuming they set off immediately after she and Heller broke into the palace to rescue the emperor.  Heller continues to not give a lepertige's ass, wondering aloud about the day he gets out of the army, the last oil refinery being "decontaminated," and his and Krak's engagement party.

This spoken flashback gives way to a narrated recap of important past events we didn't need to see firsthand.  They had a big-ass engagement party at Madison Square Garden, "three bands and a symphony orchestra, five chorus lines from Broadway shows."  Despite Heller's protests, Babe got up and introduced him as Jerome Terrace Corleone, so I guess she really did adopt him.  So now people think the widow Corleone was an adulteress bigamist secretly married to Rockecenter, which I don't think the supposedly devoutly Catholic mob boss has considered the implications of.

Also, the Manco connection: Heller has used his "Rockecenter heir" powers to have Babe's family tree rewritten, putting Prince Caucalsia of Manco at the top, who emigrated to Earth, founded Atlantis, fled to the Caucasus for whatever reason, and eventually the bloodline wound up in the Alps to produce Babe - she even has the same blood type as Krak.  So Babe, beyond being boss of the mob bosses, is now going about in a tiara and being called Queen Babe by the press.  And apparently nobody's asked where the hell Manco is, or laughed at someone being from Atlantis, or figured out that Babe's family tree starts on another planet, because there's no reaction to any of this beyond "she's a queen now!"

It's almost surreal.  There's all these events taking place off where we aren't looking, and obviously they're happening if we're being told about them, yet nothing about them fits into how we know the world should work.  People cheer when mob bosses take over a city, they don't ask questions that would inconvenience the heroes, and all the world's problems come to an end once you've killed the right guy.

The only shadow over everything is the possibility of that Voltar invasion fleet, and Krak's concerned that the intense media coverage of their engagement party, among over events, is painting a big spacebullseye on Heller.  "And all during the weeks that followed Krak's arrival in New York this last time, she had had more than an uneasy feeling that they were going to get hit and hit hard."

But Heller is aggressively unconcerned, focused more on Babe's upcoming address to the UN, where she'll use her... mob ties? to get nuclear weapons banned.  And then Congress will fix the country's drug problem by decriminalizing... whaaaaat?

So, uh, remember that "DRUGS ARE BAD" message we've been hammered with since Book Two?  The tragic death of Mary, psychology using drugs to turn college kids into prostitutes, Babe being heroic for refusing to peddle such deadly delights, the Apparatus' evil plan to get the right people addicted to happy pills, and the near-death of Krak and Heller's monarch at the hands of the drugs?  Well, Heller's apparently content to settle for decriminalization now.  Once "the profit [is] out of the scene," things will get better, right?

I guess the best explanation for this is now that the Rockecenter-psychology-PR-Nazi conspiracy has been ended, nobody else will ever produce, sell, or use drugs?  So drug laws aren't even worth enforcing?

Oy.  Other good news is that the fuel situation is settled and gas is being phased out (no mention of how many lives were lost or the economic damage sustained during that energy crisis), the atmosphere is full of Heller's miracle "spores," and the planet's poles are stable now (no mention of Russia, either).  Yep, all his hard work's paid off, and planet Earth is now worth living on.  And only a hundred million people had to die.

But Krak's still worried.  She's always worried.  And then she leaps to the wrong conclusion, runs off, and scrambles somebody's brains.  Which is why Heller should be trying a little harder to put his fiancee at ease, in my opinion.

"I don't like the situation.  We're sitting ducks."

"Well, I must say," said Heller, "that you're a very pretty duck.  Don't you think so, Mister Calico?"

Or he could call her a duck.  That works too, I guess.

This hasn't been a terribly exciting chapter, so let's end with the butler announcing that Heller has a call on his "special phone" that nobody else is supposed to answer.  Let that mystery sustain you, and fill you with anticipation for what excitement may await in the next chapter.  It's mail.

Back to Part Seventy-Seven, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Part Seventy-Seven, Chapter Eight - The Latest Secret History of PR and Psychology

Apparently working in the PR industry to promote psychology renders one immune to the deception that mental health doctors are good for you, because at a staff meeting one week after the last chapter, Madison threatens his criminal reporters with a dose of LSD or, "if the offense is really bad," psychiatric treatment if they screw up.  But then he announces "all systems go!" and his team hustles into action - "The PR war was on."

See, Madison used his connection to the Apparatus Provocation Section to get five of his former circus girls some fake IDs to let them pass as noblewomen, allowing them entry to various nobby sore-ees and whatnot.  There they strategically gossiped about a wonderful new import from Earth called psychiatry, and a local expert visiting Voltar to cure people - turns out sex is the root of any mental disorder.  By now there's a nice, workable rumor sweeping Voltar's social circles, building the buzz about this fascinating new science.

Madison, with a dungeon waiting, watched the cam­paign nervously.

Very few people, even on Earth, realized that psychiatry and psychology were just the creations of PR and had no other substance.

Wait, whaaaaat?  Just a few chapters ago we were told all about how PR saved psychiatry from being recognized as an excuse for "scientists" to drop their drawers in front of kindergartners.

Freud's theory that everything was sex had remained scoffed at and neglected until he had married into a New York advertising firm and then the advertising men began to push it, and until this day sex was the dominant basis of all Earth advertising.  

So... Freud was psychoanalyzing around the 1890's, right, and modern PR started up around 1900, and nobody took Freud's theories seriously until he got married in 1886 and got a PR for a spouse or something and everyone was like yay, it's a penis.  But, as we learned earlier, despite this people still thought psychology was an excuse to drop trousers in front of little kiddies until after World War II, when the Nazis (who drove Freud into exile) founded a bunch of psychological associations and got PR to make them look good, allowing them to take over the world and murder people and drop trousers in front of little kiddies.

I tried to do the "conspiracy theory string diagram" thing to chart this but it came out a knot.  This is a timeline of evil deeds that loops back on itself.  It is an incestuous conspiracy.

The PR on psychoanalysis was so good that it overrode the fact that a third of the patients committed suicide in the first three months of treatment. And there were no cures of record.

Ah, statistics.  Y'know, 12 out of 5 Mission Earth purchasers are Scientologists, and the sixth inevitably dies a week after finishing the books.

Madison was following the general PR pattern psychiatry had pursued so successfully.  He even had LSD available, a milestone of psychiatric success which had permitted it to capture no less than the head of the largest news magazine in America, make him an addict and convert him to the psychiatric cause.  Loose, of Slime magazine, had thus become a primary crusader for psychiatry and LSD and a relentless hatchet man for any other technology that arose that psychiatry thought might constitute a threat.

So is Madison a PR or a psychiatrist at this point?  I am very confused.

His work pays off when he announces that the famous Earth (don't you mean Blito-P3?) psychologist Dr. Crobe will be giving a lecture to a small audience in Madison's not-actually-haunted apartment.  Crobe gives a little speech, with a shock collar on in case he goes off-script, about Freud and sex and egos and ids and the danger of a dissatisfied sex life.  The audience - wives of those snooty publishers - is quite receptive.  So Crobe asks for some volunteers and agrees to five special "interviews."

These five victims are escorted to rooms like that demon sacrificial chamber Madison widdled himself in earlier, now refurbished as fake hospitals, and quietly dosed with LSD via tongue depressor.  While Madison watches over the space closed-circuit TV, Crobe goes around encouraging the women to recount any troubles with their husbands.  An hour into it, the drugs kick in, and Madison has his technicians turn on the holographic horror show.

So after being put into a bad state of mind by thinking about arguments, the tripping wives of newspaper publishers are subjected to holograms of devils or space pirates or "bats with daggers in their claws," so they end up not enjoying themselves very much.  When the screaming is over and the drugs wear off, Crobe gives his diagnosis: the only cure for bats with daggers in their claws is to have sex with handsome young men at a private resort on Relax Island.

And that's how it all comes together, folks!  We needed the holographic apartment to make scary sights and sounds!  We needed Teenie's island to provide man-sluts!  We needed Crobe for the LSD, and we needed psychology so he could send women to those man-sluts to cure them of the "psychological problems" brought about by that LSD!  And the end result of this convoluted series of events is:

[Madison] grinned.

He could almost smell, now, the Heller-Wister headlines!

News stories about Heller robbing space banks!  Yes, Madison's unlimited finances, status as Media Czar, relationship with a famous actress, or connection with the intelligence organization that allegedly controls an empire, are not enough to get a story about Heller onto the airwaves!  This is what we have to go through to open up the possibility of advancing the plot a single step!  Because we are on page 331 of 459 and we have yet to see a single phony headline about Heller!

Naturally, now that it looks like Madison will finally start his devastating PRing of Heller, the author chooses to spend the next Part back on Earth.

Back to Part Seventy-Seven, Chapters Six and Seven

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Part Seventy-Seven, Chapters Six and Seven - The Return of the Crobe

Madison finds Crobe splayed out on his own operating table, the smell of old blood and rotting flesh hitting him "like a club."  Captain Snelz has to hit the guy with a space cattle prod a few times to wake Crobe up, and it's then that Madison recognizes him - "Too long a nose, too long in limb, weirdly misshapen" - as a doctor from Bellevue.

But Crobe refuses to leave, stating he's too busy with a project involving bottles and pans, which Madison realizes is a little LSD lab. 

He had suspected it the moment he had taken a close look at Crobe's eyes.  Many a psychiatrist and psychologist augmented his income by making LSD in his kitchen and spreading it around.  And Crobe had been so industrious he had enough there to knock out a billion people: it only took one one-hundred-thousandth of a microgram to produce a full-blown trip.

I'm not sure whether that's the dosage for a human or Voltarian, and don't care.  Madison assures Crobe that he can bring the "cookout" along, and he's a huuuge fan of the LSD.  Snelz is shocked that Crobe is willing to leave and intently following the cart o' drugs, and concludes that magnets must be involved.  Guess Monte interviewed Snelz at some point too.

And that's all three and a half pages of Chapter Six, which ends with Madison aglow.

He not only had his data, he also had a real Bellevue-trained psychiatrist.  And there was a terrific bonus: he had gallons of LSD!

He couldn't possibly lose!

You still haven't explained why Madison needs a real Bellevue-trained psychiatrist, Hubbard.

He could follow the American Psychiatric Affiliates caper right here on Voltar.  He didn't even have to dream anything up!  It had all been done and proven utterly before.  Earth ran on it, right this minute.  Pure perfection!

Yeah, we know.  You told us last chapter.  And many times before.  Earth sure is under the control of psychiatry.  It's the perfect con.  Yep.

The stepping stones were leading him right up to Heller!  Oh, it would be no swift thing.  But it was sure and it was certain that he would succeed.

A feeling of power surged through him.

Maybe he's gonna get all the publishers on LSD, so they'll have to print his stories if they want their drugs?  Wait, then we'd be using the same plot twice in the same story.

Chapter Seven is mostly a summation of things that happened over a timeskip, days that were a "blur of activity for Madison."  He gets people to bathe Crobe until he isn't stinky.  He picks out a wardrobe for him and the dancing girls he recruited.  He buys some flying limos.  He makes another Homeview clip for Lombar.  He gets in touch with the Provocation Section.  He gives Teenie some critical instructions.  It's really confusing why this bunch of alternatively trivial and plot-relevant activity is glossed over given all the time we've wasted in this book alone on dead-end subplots and pointless diversions, but maybe the author was getting as tired of writing it as we've been of reading it.

The only real scene we get is Madison paying a visit to Teenie's Island Paradise (Not a Military Stronghold).   The place has been tidied up since Too-Too used a new kiss on Lord Endow, and Teenie's up in a music salon - topless, of course - lamenting how stupid her students are.

She gives a signal, a maid dressed up like a noblewoman ambles onto a stage, and then at a second signal one of the island's officers is released.  He immediately jumps on the woman, tears off her clothes, and is in the process of forcing her legs open when Teenie aborts the exercise... which fails, so that other soldiers have to drag him "out of and off the maid."  The soldier in this scenario is supposed to be polite before making his indecent proposal, but they all seem intent on raping their female fellow students as soon as possible.

Madison conjectures that what with the shock collars and all, maybe Queen Hora conditioned this men to be lusty beasts, and Teenie agrees - "Queen Hora wanted to be hit and stripped and raped!"  So she signs a Royal proclamation to circulate among the islanders, changing their programming from "rape" to "not rape."  Because that makes it more official, see, than her, the Queen, telling them to their face "don't rape this woman."  It isn't legal until a herald reads it off at the top of his lungs.  And they won't not rape someone unless that's what the law requires.

Teenie then asks how the PR is going, Madison says it'll take a few more weeks for him to be in business and a few more months to get Gris into her evil clutches, and asks permission to take some pictures of the place.  She recommends he get some photos of her dungeons to keep as an incentive.  End chapter.

So, to recap what was largely in itself a recap: Madison got Crobe and some LSD, did some plot-relevant stuff not important enough to be included in the story, watched some degenerate alien sex fiends, and announced that there's still no end in sight.  But we're PRing, I guess!  Advancing the main plot!  It's boring and stupid, but we should expect that by now.

Tune in next time for the start of the PR War!  Maybe we'll even learn why Madison needed psychiatry to do his job, eh?

Back to Chapters Four and Five

Monday, December 16, 2013

Part Seventy-Seven, Chapters Four and Five - Neglect Is the Best Therapy

Chapter Four starts with a borderline artsy sentence as "the searching fingers of the sun pried gently" at Madison's eyelids.  In his half-awake state, the publicist reflects that a main function of newspapers is "to cause trouble and worry people.  Thus, it followed, a primary intention of all Earth media is to make people go mad."  Because I guess it's impossible to feel anxious and not go insane.

But speaking of madness, Madison realizes that he's never even heard of a Voltarian psychologist, much less any field dedicated to curing (or causing) insanity.  So he barges into Flick's room, wakes the guy up, and proceeds to interrogate the center of a Twa and Cun sandwich... I still can't get over those names.  Seriously, Hubbard?

Flick crawled weakly down to the foot of the bed and sat, too spent to progress further.  He said, "The insane?  Let's see.  Well, when they say somebody is insane, it's not very hard to figure out they're right.  They get staring eyes and rush about or flop.  They don't know anybody and, when they talk, they say crazy things.  So they send them to a big prison far up north and that's that."

Huh.  So the author thinks that a society that criminalizes mental disorders is superior to one with a medical discipline dedicated to treating them? 

"What happens if they get well?"

"Get well?  That's a funny term.  You mean if they go sane again?  Well, if that happens, they watch them for a while and then they let them out."

Oh, so it's not a prison prison, it's just a place people can rest and recuperate until they're better!  That happens to be a dungeon far from civilization. 

"You mean they don't shock them or operate on their brains?"

"For pity's sakes, why?  

Because you can fix brain problems.  Your society invented the hypno-helmet!  Why is this a strange concept?!

How come somebody should punish them? 

If they're not being punished then why are they in prison?!

They don't work on them or touch them at all.  I had a cousin once was sent to the Insane Detention Camp on Calabar: he went crazy as a gyro with half a wheel gone.  They kept him for half a year, didn't do a thing but feed him, and then they let him back out.  He was all sane again.  I'm sure glad they didn't damage him: my aunt would have raised a thousand Devils if they had."

The Hubbard cure for mental health problems: lock 'em up somewhere until they're no longer insane.  Be sure to check on them from time to time, make sure they're not out of kibble.

Flick of course hasn't heard of a psychiatrist, and makes to get up and grab some breakfast, until Twa lets him know that he's not hungry yet.  Madison steps out to avoid a sex scene that doesn't involve rape, a corpse, or a minor, and decides to take an infodump on us.

The idea he had had was not really his.  It was a historic milestone of the PR trade.  It had come to him when he realized the primary purpose of Earth media was to make people go mad.  And this had jarred into view one of the PR triumphs of the century.

The American Psychiatric Affiliates, many decades ago, had had a terrible problem with the media.  At that time, nobody in his right mind would print anything serious about psychiatrists; the breed was regarded as just a bunch of vicious fakes and quacks, destructive at the very least with their electric shocks and murders.

Unlike now, when... everyone who deals with them know psychiatrists are destructive and crazy.  Good job, PR.

But PR had saved the day.  In league with the World Federation of Mental Stealth--an organization composed of ex-Nazis who had murdered the millions of Jews as well as all the "insane" in Germany, and who were running from the Allied forces--the American Psychiatric Affiliates had pulled the most cunning coup of the age.

So is the implication that all Jews are insane?  Well, the only example in the book is suicidally depressed...

They had done such a marvelous job on the media that now, today, a psychiatrist could commit murder several times a day, including Sunday,

But that's when the Bible says they should be resting after their week of murders!

and could do anything, even exhibit himself in front of children, and the media and every page and frame of it would praise him to the skies and say how scientific and necessary it all was.

Yes, their PR procedure had indeed worked and continued to work.  Resoundingly, psychiatry and psychology were now considered totally above all law and even the highest in the land licked their scruffy, bloodstained boots.

So psychiatrist Nazis were only taken seriously when PR mercenaries convinced the newspapers that murder and indecent exposure were scientific, making politicians and other elites into psychiatry's slaves.  Got it.

The psychiatry-PR alliance is so fundamental that of course Madison didn't think of it until now, but anyway, he knows he needs a psychiatrist.  He can't raise Lombar on the videophone, and when he gets an information officer he's directed to report in person to Camp Kill.  Flick of course assumes they're due to be tossed in the chasm.  When they land, he laments that he reformed just in time to be executed thinking of Hightee Heller.  Cun hits him.  It is very amusing.

They're eventually greeted by Captain Snelz, who the narrator is nice enough to remind us is the jolly good friend of Krak and Heller from way the hell back in Book One.  He gets chatty when he sees Madison's unlimited pay grade and demands that he and his men get a round in at the canteen, where they make conversation about Blito-P3, Heller and "his lady."  Madison tries to BS his way through it but reveals that he's no true friend of Heller by not knowing that Krak is more than 5'2", but the guard doesn't make anything of it.  For now.  Surely something will happen later to justify this encounter.

Then Madison's sent to see the head clerk, who he butters up as the type of person who really runs things around places like this, and asks for any blackmail material on those snooty publishers.  The Apparatus' sophisticated spy network has revealed such nuggets as "Lady Mithin this morning accused her husband of being an unreasonable boor when he complained the jolt was not hot," so Madison will have his work cut out for him.

He then asks about psychiatrists, or psychologists, or psychoanalysts, or anyone dealing with mental illness - "That's a funny term.  Mental things don't have any germs or virus connected..."  But then the clerk remembers a fellow named Crobe, who was blathering all about that sort of thing when he returned from Blito-P3.  And so Madison is given an order of custody for the mad doctor, bringing another unappealing character back into the story.

Yes, soon Madison will have his psychiatrist, so that... wait.  It was psychology that was in dire straights before PR came along to save its reputation, not the other way around.  How the hell is this supposed to help?  Madison's chain of thought was that news makes people worried, which makes them crazy, which... evidently means he needs a psychiatrist to make them better?  Or crazier?

How will this make Heller famous again?  Hello?  Author?  What is the logic behind your plot?

Back to Chapter Three

Friday, December 13, 2013

Part Seventy-Seven, Chapter Three - Alien News is Hella Boring

It turns out that you might want to learn how an alien society's media works before you start playing it like a piano to make some guy a famous dead outlaw, in case it turns out to actually be a tuba.

The reporters Madison sent out return around midnight, standing around like "lost wool animals" because the author recently remembered that an alien historian is supposed to be writing this.  None of the editors they visited were interested in their stories and were baffled by the idea of "handouts."  So the next day Madison decides to try and handle things personally, paying a visit to the Daily Speaker's publisher, Noble Arthrite Stuffy, who just happens to be Lord Snor's cousin.

It goes badly.  Stuffy sees no point to Madison's promise that his sensational stories would increase circulation, since they already have more subscribers than they can easily handle, and the paper doesn't carry advertisements.  I think this civilization skipped the internet on its way to harnessing black holes and synthesizing matter.

Madison threatens to use a Royal order to get this paper to carry his stories, but...

"Hah," said Stuffy.  "You just get your Royal order and I will get you a revolution as quick as blink.  Seventy thousand years ago a monarch tried to force papers to report the soirees of his commoner mistress and they even erased his name from history.  Royal order!  Oh, this will be rich when I mention it at luncheon at my club to other publishers."

They went full damnatio memoriae on a king for leaning on a newspaper?!  Conquering planets because a piece of paper told you to is fine, mind-rape helmets are fine, but nondescript space gods forbid you try and get a paper to carry a press release about the nobody you're (bleeping).

The best come-back Madison can muster is to threaten to start his own paper, with blackjack, and hookers, but the publisher sneers that "There hasn't been a new newssheet started in fifteen thousand years.  Try it and the other papers will buy up all the available paper and leave you nothing to print on but gutter stones."  So it sounds like 1) Voltar's print media is in cahoots to quash any competition, which may explain why they can charge prices high enough to survive without printing ads, and 2) nobody's heard of a digital edition.

Madison tries some other venues but gets the same response, learning that there's about seventy-five space papers with chains spanning the whole Confederacy.  He tries to get in touch with Homeview's news section, but learns that they don't have one: they just repeat the headlines of print news.

He had an idea that what he was up against was that curse of the PR profession, journalistic truth. Long, long ago, on Earth,

When?  The scary thing about journalism is how relatively recent the concept of objectivity and professionalism is - some of the first papers in America were political rags, and then there was the whole yellow journalism phase (sorry Spain!).  It was only after World War One that journalism really matured, and you can argue that it's been in another decline since the Bush II years.  So less than a century of quality journalism, all told.

they used to talk about it to graduates in journalism.  But these days, they even awarded Pulitzer Prizes for the most false story of the year.  The Voltarians, with all this nonsense about sources and accuracy, were definitely on the wrong road: even the corniest weekly in Podunk could give them lessons.

And now Madison starts flipping through newssheets, seeing how they work and what stories they cover.  And it's just horrifying: "NEW MONUMENT DEDICATED," "LADY PROMPTON ORPHANAGE SPEECH IN FULL," "WIFE OF LORD ELD GIVES PINK SPARKLEWATER PARTY," and forth.  See, noble bimbos' soirees are totally newsworthy.

The only non-crap stories are reports of that little civil war on Calabar or young lovers' romantic suicides and such, so there's some hope, but overall Madison can only mentally shout "WHAT A BACKWARD CIVILIZATION!"  It's up to him to apply some good old American know-how and revolutionize this culture's mass media!

Although his determination was strong, he knew he needed more than that.  He needed some point of entrance to penetrate this media wall.

He went to bed and stared at the ceiling.  No ideas.  Eventually, he slept.

...Or he'll go to bed.

I can't help but feel that Madison's not the only one who ran out of ideas and called it a day.

Back to Chapters One and Two