Thursday, February 28, 2013

Part Forty-Eight, Chapter Five - The Honeymoons

A reader familiar with Western wedding traditions no doubt noticed something highly unusual last chapter - there was no bachelorette party beforehand!  Fortunately, the wives decide to indulge in their bacchanal after the wedding.  A little unorthodox, but the important thing is the drunken debauchery.

Gris and the girls return to the apartment in which he departed that morning "a free man," finding it bedecked with garlands and seashells and sea foam and other symbols of Aphrodite, along with a pair of guests: brown-haired Curly, "a not bad looking thirty" in a "combat jacket," and the willowy Sippy wrapped in transparent gauze.  They play the wedding march and break out the cake and champagne even though Gris just wants his money.

Mrs. Bey and Mrs. Bey put their hands over Gris' as they cut the cake, which of course features two brides and a groom - the latter figure even topples over when the confection is sliced, which Gris takes as an omen.  More champagne, mixed with marijuana.

They were getting quite drunk and stoned.  Curly did an impression of Rockecenter at his last personnel inspection, making sure that Sippy was still a virgin and when Curly produced a limp dishrag, for some reason it sent them all rolling on the floor with glee, holding their sides.

It is pretty hilarious.  When I read about that "limp dishrag" I sure fell out of my chair laughing.  Also, back in Book Three, Rockecenter was specifically doing pregnancy checks, not virginity tests.  It involved watching women go to the toilet.

Things get even more confusing when Gris again tries to get some money out of Mrs. Bey nee Pinch, only to be told that they have to consummate the marriage, otherwise it isn't legal.  All the girls rage at Gris for trying to annul his marriage(s), he protests that they were refusing to have sex with him due to fear of miscarriage earlier-

They're chugging champagne and smoking pot while pregnant.

-but the former Miss Candy points out that "We've got two virgins here, just for the purpose of consummation!"  Because you don't count as married until you consummate it (which has horrifying implications for that marriage at the end of Battlefield Earth), and you can't consummate a marriage unless the woman you consummate it with is a virgin (the man's chastity doesn't matter, of course), but the woman you consummate your marriage with doesn't have to be the woman you actually married, and you can't pee if you're pregnant.

Figuring out this book's logic is like watching a plane fly sideways.

Things get heated and champagne glasses get thrown at Gris until he hides under the sofa and yells that of course he wants to be married to them, and certainly doesn't think they're monsters, nor did he marry them only for their money.  So the girls get on with their consummation.

Another version of the wedding march was blaring out:

Here comes the bride,
Fit to be tied.
To how many boyfriends,
Has this chick spread wide?
Here comes the groom,
A relic from a tomb,
All the guests are laughing
As he meets his doom.

I dared to peek out.

I could see the bottom of the bed.

Feet were twisting and turning, four pairs.

"Oh, you darling!" came Candy's voice.

"What's going on?" I pleaded, staring.  "I'm the husband!"

"Beat it, buster," came the drunken voice of Mrs. Bey nee Pinch.  "This ish OUR conshummation, not yoursh!"

A champagne bottle exploded in a cascade of fizz.

Must be something about harmonics and vibrations that routinely makes objects in Mission Earth explode or fly off the walls or mantle during lovemaking.

Gris, feeling strangely "like a fifth wheel," goes to bed and has a nightmare in which he's pretending to be Heller pretending to be the marriage license clerk stamping on a coffin containing "Soltan Gris" to marry the Manco Devil to Lombar Hisst with Rockecenter on hand as the best man.  Or in other words, the surreal nightmares the author comes up with make just as much sense as the rest of the plot.

But what really woke me up sweating was when a Manco Devil stepped out of the coffin and pointed a finger at the middle of my forehead.  He--or was it a she?--said "Ask yourself.  Is this all happening to you because you did it to Heller?"

And the answer is a resounding "No!  This happened to me because I am balefully stupid, easily manipulated, terminally lazy, but most importantly of all, balefully stupid, I cannot stress my lack of intelligence enough."

I knew right then, as I stared into the spinning darkness, that things were going to get WORSE!

That seems to be the recurring theme of Mission Earth, yes.  The author keeps finding new depths to plumb.  Chapter after next, we meet Teenie. 

Back to Chapter Four

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Part Forty-Eight, Chapter Four - Weddings Episode

Gris is still pretty shellshocked, which is problematic when he's supposed to be narrating this story.  He ended chapter two with his head spinning and eyes wide and staring.  He starts this chapter by waking up from a series of nightmares involving Voltarian characters like Meeley the landlady and members of the Death Battalion, who we haven't seen since Book One, or 1,854 pages ago.

But the author had a problem - he needed to update us on Heller's heartbreaking condition.  So when Gris stumbled away from getting blackmailed into marriage in Chapter Two, he just so happened to be staring at the uncovered, active viewscreen when he flopped down in his room, just when Heller happened to be looking into his missing girlfriend.  And despite Gris' mental state he was able to recall Heller's activities how many months later when he wrote the "confession" that makes up most of this book.  Even though he wasn't cogent enough to comment or react in any way to the events of Chapter Three, despite being the book's narrator. 

Unlike most of the other issues arising from the "Gris as narrator" premise, this one at least is incredibly easy to solve - simply move the chapter where Heller finds that Krak has left him a few dozen pages to a point where Gris is able to properly react to it, or at least feasibly notice it.  But no, for whatever reason the author needed it to happen concurrently with Gris getting roped into marriage.  Probably symbolism or something - the good guy loses his girl, the bad guy gets two he doesn't want.

But anyway, this chapter.  Gris gets dressed and sleepwalks through the morning all gloom and doomy - he hears the fridge door closing as gunfire giving him a "final grave salute."  A becloaked Candy and Pinchy drive him in their Datsun to Hartford, Connecticut, "Population 819,432 ½," bringing the story's "satire" down to historic new lows. They go to city hall and join a line of "frightened men and gleeful women" waiting for their marriage documents, all arranged beforehand by private detectives.

When Gris and the girls get to the front of the line, Candy and Pinch throw off their cloaks to reveal that Candy's in a wedding gown and Pinch is dressed as a bridesmaid!  Which isn't a dramatic reveal at all!  Makes you wonder why the author even bothered to conceal the outfits in the first place!

The clerk said, "DoyouCandyLicoricetakethismantobeyourawfulweddedhusband?"

"Yes," Candy said.


A sharp instrument in the hands of Pinch prodded me. "Ow!" I said.

The clerk raised a gavel and brought it down on the desk with a sharp rap. He said in his rapid slur of a voice, "BythepowersinvestedinmebytheStateofConnecticutIherebysentenceyoutomarriage. Signthebok. Paythecashier."

They do so, and Gris leaves the courthouse both legally married and feeling a vague sense of unease about that ceremony.  You see it, don't you?  Yeah, the clerk totally said "awful wedded wife!"  And then sentenced them to marriage!  Like it was a punishment!

So did Hubbard have a happy relationship with his wife?  He's presenting Earth marriage as something coercive and mechanical here, and then there's how Krak keeps going around raping minds and causing problems behind good ol' Heller's back.  Is this how the author felt about his wife's less-than-legal activities, or is this how he want us to think he felt about the crimes she committed, widely suspected to be if not directly by his orders, but at least with his consent?

Anyway, Candy and Pinch put on a show for everyone in the parking lot - except Gris, because once you're married you stop getting any from that lady - by swapping outfits in the back of the Datsun.  Then they drive to Springfield, Massachusetts ("Population 167,500"), go into the courthouse, meet an identical clerk, and go through another rapid-fire marriage.  But midway into it Gris realizes that he's signing not as Inkswitch, his identity as a Rockecenter spy, but as Sultan Bey!

Yeah, as they explain in the parking lot, Candy and Pinch overheard Gris babbling to himself "in some outlandish tongue that could be Turkish" while sleeping one night, and found his Turkish passport and birth certificate lying around.  So they nailed him with that name instead of his Fed cover identity.  Something inside of Gris snaps and he tries to introduce himself as Jettero Heller, but the girls laugh him off, teasing that next he'll be saying he's the other name he babbles in his sleep, Soltan Gris.

 "No, Sultan Bey," said Mrs. Bay nee Pinch. "Make up your mind to it. You are our lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, and even though you aren't much, we'll have to get used to it and so will you. Become accustomed to the fact that you are now probably the most married man on the entire eastern seaboard. The knots are irrevocably tied. Let's have some hamburgers and go home." 

It'll be two chapters before the penny drops.  Actually, that's not quite accurate, Gris will still have to have the situation explained to him.

Back to Chapters Two and Three

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Part Forty-Eight, Chapters Two and Three - Rolling Around on the Ground, In a Tree, While Drowning

The chapter starts with Gris being revived with water to the face, having passed out from hearing Candy and Pinch discuss marriage at the end of the last chapter.  Finding him still speechless, the former lesbians grab dinner before returning to explain the situation, and set the mood by putting on the music that was playing "the first time you raped us."

Sweet little woman,
Please marry me,
Man and wife together,
How happy we will be.
And then we'll have some kiddies,
Maybe two or three,
So here's the ring, and there's the church!
Now come, my honey, be!

Was the author planning to collect royalties once this started getting played at weddings after the Mission Earth craze swept the nation?

Gris of course doesn't like it and gets them to change the station, after which they lay out how it's going down. If Gris marries them - yes, both Miss Candy and Miss Pinch - Gris'll get the tens of thousands of dollars that by all rights he's obligated to as the Rockecenter family spook.  If he refuses, they'll sue.  They never disclose what they're going to sue him for, of course, nor acknowledge that since Rockecenter's policy won't allow for unwed pregnancies, they're the only ones who stand to lose anything in this situation, so Gris should be the one making demands.

But no, Gris is still panicking from remembering Izzy's description of the U.S. legal system two chapters ago, and reasons that his real name isn't  Inkswitch anyway, so he forces his agreement out of his "voice pipe." 

Right on cue, the radio station changes tracks to put on "one of those rare modern songs where one could understand the lyrics."

I'm dying,
I'm dying,
I'm dying!
I'm rolling all over the ground.
I'm dying,
I'm dying,
I'm dying!
A poor devil that you've drowned.
I'm dying,
I'm dying,
I'm dying!
You've got me up a tree!
I'm dying,
I'm dying,
I'm dying!
And never more will be!

So what genre is "modern" music?  Techno?  Rap?  J-Pop?

Anyway, that's Chapter Two, Gris being horrified at his upcoming coercive marriage.

Chapter Three concerns Heller realizing that his girlfriend is no longer sobbing like a heartbroken teenager in her room, but sobbing like a heartbroken teenager somewhere far away from him.  The butler reveals that not only did Krak not say where she was going, but she took her maid with her... can you do that?  Hire a staff for an apartment and then bring one along when you move to another city?  Well, because of that and the fact that she hired a "fleet" of cabs to handle all her luggage instead of using the chauffeur, nobody knows where she went.

But upon hearing that Krak made a phone call, Heller's intuition, perhaps taking a cue from Gris' INSPIRATION!, tells him to check in with Mamie Boomp.  She spends most of a page chewing him out over the phone for having "horsed that poor girl around enough," and being an aspiring bigamist.  Heller of course is "out of [his] mind with worry," and has no idea what she's talking about.

"They never do," said Mamie.  "All take and no give.  Have you ever even handed over a diamond?"

"No," said Heller.  "Miss B----"

"I thought not," said Mamie.  "Thought the promise of the little gold ring was enough.  Even when you knew you couldn't hitch it up to run double and knew it God (bleeped) well.  The old story!"

The old question, satire or not?  Is this meant to be incomprehensible, or does Hubbard expect us to understand running a double hitch on a little gold ring instead of handing over a diamond?

Since Mamie has proved less than helpful, Heller spends some time calling airlines to check if a Miss Heavenly Joy Krackle has booked any flights, then Twoey to see if Krak has come by to give him lessons lately, then Izzy, then Bang-Bang.  Then he thinks to ask the butler if anything odd happened before Krak left, and gets told about a strange delivery - and as a matter of fact, "Isn't that the paper there, sir?  Under that box?"

He stared at the legal paper.  He read it.  He stared at it again.  Then he crumpled it up with a savage closure of his hand.

"Blast them!  I understand now," he said.  He slumped down on the bottom of the bed.  Then he said, "That poor kid.  The people who keep this rotten legal system going should be killed.  Oh, the poor kid."  And he was crying.

That moment when you realize the love of your life is an idiot who will believe anything she reads.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, February 25, 2013

Part Forty-Eight, Chapter One - Halt

Three days pass, three days of media coverage in which the Whiz Kid's babymama, Maizie Spread, goes into great detail concerning the circumstances and positions involved in her loss of virtue.  Three days of Heller wandering around all sad and Krak crying in her room instead of attempting to communicate with each other.  Gris is jubilant.

Mission Earth had been brought to a HALT!

Yaaay!  The already sputtering plot is now dead in the water!

Wait, did I say Gris was jubilant?  Because immediately after celebrating his victory with the line above, he says

But there was a danger that activity on their part might start it up again.

So the enemy is defeated and not going anywhere, but what if they start moving again?  How suspenseful!

To make sure Heller and Krak's halting is permanent, Gris turns once more to Madison, who explains that he's got the Whiz Kid saga planned out for years, and will culminate when Miss Spread "claims he got other members of his gang to rape all the livestock," but a less sanguine Gris points out that one of the papers let the story fall off the front page.  Madison replies that he'll use his connections to get that paper's staff fired, Gris points out that he can't just fire every editor in the country, and we get some absolutely riveting dialogue.

"Yes, I can!" he said.

"No, you can't," I said.

"Yes, I can!" he said.

In a way, this is a very empowering book, because it likes to remind me of all the productive things I could be doing right now instead of reading it.  My desk is looking a little cluttered, I should put up those pens and papers.  Could probably afford to dust it too.  If the weather stays nice, I could try and get the cobwebs out from between the window panes.  Maybe shelve some books, I'm letting them stack up in front of each other.

Anyway, Madison assures Gris that he's got everything under control, and sure enough the next day's headline reveals that the Whiz Kid, while robbing a train in Kansas like a modern Robin Hood, decided to force himself upon one Toots Switch, and to avoid violating the Mann Act while violating the girl, forced a parson passenger to marry them at gunpoint so the consequent consummation would be nice and legal.

Satire means you can make up stupid stories, stick them in an in-story newspaper, and laugh at the media for being stupid.

Gris prances around his (Pinch's) apartment in merriment, but checks on his foes and sees that they're showing no signs of having heard the latest development in the fictional Whiz Kid's imaginary exploits.  So he calls up the lawyers from a few chapters ago to get them to deliver another suit to Heller's apartments and force the heroes to notice the elaborate web of lies he's weaving around them.  The lawyers are hesitant because, even though the author forgot to tell us this two chapters ago, Heller was carrying and almost drew a gun the first time he got served by a shabby lawyer.  But Gris gives them instructions for the lawyer to buzz in as Lombar Hisst.

Krak is the one who's at home for the call, and as Gris planned tells the butler to admit "Hisst."  She's surprised when it turns out to be "the shabby man in the shabby coat with the shabby hat pulled over his eyes," and immediately realizes that something is amiss.  Somehow this man knew a name that would make her see him, a name that only a handful of people on the entire planet know.  And since she never trusted Gris to begin with, it seems likely that he's somehow involved with these shabby bearers of outrageous misfortune...

Wait, that's not what happens at all.

"You're not Hisst," she said.

"Madam, as a member of the household of Wister, I give you this.  He has been served."  He jammed the paper into her hands and fled.

Confused already by the false announcement, she opened the paper.

And there before her eyes was the Toots Wister nee Switch suit and all its gory details legally phrased.

And that's it.  Krak's train of thought about Hisst getting namedropped doesn't even leave the station.  She is immediately and fully distracted by a legal document alleging adultery, cries in the bathroom a bit, calls Mamie Boomp to sob about how "he was already married!" and gets invited to Atlantic City.  She makes another call to schedule transportation, absently mentions that "If I only had my own ship I could go home," and the guy on the other end immediately sets her up with a personal luxury yacht that just came on to the market, courtesy of Gris' credit card of course.  Gris moans about his security deposit for... it's been at least a dozen times by now, surely?

And know what?  I'm gonna skip the half-page description of Krak's luxurious new yacht.  Because it doesn't matter.  It's not important.  Nobody's sighing happily now that the Countess Krak has a boat with gold fittings in the captain's cabin and two swimming pools.  Nobody's life has been improved by reading about Krak's fully-crewed two-hundred-foot floating palace.  It's not advancing the story, it's not telling us anything about these fictional people, it's just treasure being dropped in the laps of the author's pet characters without action or effort.

To use a nerdy metaphor, this is a Dungeon Master running an all-NPC Monty Haul campaign.  In front of a paying audience.

Krak's designated maid helps her pack, i.e. Krak sits on her mopey ass while the maid does all the work, and then she's driven to the docks and boards her nautical castle.  Gris realizes that she might be heading out of range of our favorite plot device, the bugging equipment implanted in her skull, but Gris has a plan to deal with that problem:

Well, never mind.  Maybe the yacht will blow up and sink.  I had to look on the brighter side of things.

Yes, optimism!  Optimism without action or thought.  Just hope that your potential problems will spontaneously combust.  That's how granddad licked the Nazis, that's how dad thumped the Commies, and that's how we'll clobber the Terrorists.  

The chapter ends with Candy and Pinch sitting down for a meeting with Gris about their childrens' future.  Gris protests that Rockecenter's policy is for employees to get abortions or pink slips, their choice, but these two rebel former lesbians have turned on Psychiatric Birth Control and are determined to experience "the joys of motherhood."  To get around Rockecenter's policy, Gris'll have to marry them.

So Rockecenter ruthlessly orders his employees to terminate any pregnancies and tries to break their minds and twist them into horrible homosexuals, unless they get a loop of precious metal and a legal document, at which point he apparently shrugs and finds something else to do.

The main villain's idea of action is to tell other people to do stuff mixed with hoping that things will work out for him, the heroes are incapable of having an honest face-to-face conversation to clear up a pretty dumb misunderstanding, and the Big Bad's plan to depopulate the planet can be thwarted by a Las Vegas quickie marriage.

Mission Earth.  Forty-eight Parts long now, and still going on stupid.

Back to Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Ten

Friday, February 22, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Ten - The Hero is Exiled From Canada

So the newspapers are howling about the Whiz Kid's expulsion from the Purity League, the radio is inviting people to join a lynch mob, preachers are working the Whiz Kid's moral failings into their sermons, the U.S. government is looking into the Whiz Kid's back taxes, and the United Kingdom has banned the Whiz Kid from not just the isles but Canada.

And none of it matters because nobody besides Gris is paying any attention to the media.  So, another riddle.  Is the author, while satirizing the media by presenting it as nothing but slanderous fiction, undermining his own message by showing how ineffective it is?  Or is the media's impotence part of the satire?  If so, is it wise to spend book after book talking about something that isn't real and doesn't matter?

Except exactly twice in the series it has mattered, when Babe Corleone and Krak decided to accept the media's rendition of reality over their own senses and experiences.  So does the author need to explain why the media is meaningless 99% of the time but catastrophically powerful the other 1%?  

Anyway, Krak is still in her room, crying, and Heller has evidently given up trying to talk things out with her, and is instead examining his legal dilemma with Izzy.  Cue three-and-a-half pages of Izzy explaining how anyone can sue you at any time for no reason for millions of dollars in legal battles the lawyers will draw out for years to fill their own pockets.  Heller chimes in with zingers like "civil suit?  It sounds awful uncivil to me," or "sounds illegal to me," or "any honest lawyer/government would end this," or "nobody could live in a society like that!"  It is all very droll social commentary that makes the reader reflect on the absurdities of the world he or she lives in, and perhaps compels him or her to act to reform the nation's legal system so that it will never accuse an alien infiltrator of fathering an illegitimate baby while on a mission to prepare the world for conquest by an imperialist extraplanetary civilization.

Izzy reminds Heller that he did try to give him that plane ticket to the Amazon one or two books ago, but promises to do what he can to deal with the situation.

"This could wreck my whole mission," said Heller despondently.

"That's all the legal system is designed to do," said Izzy.

And it works!  Not a single successful alien invasion!  Long live the lawyers!

"Enrich the lawyers and bums and ruin everybody else.  But cheer up.  An atomic war might intervene and settle everything."

"With a legal system as insane as that, they deserve it," said Heller and left.

That alarmed me a little bit.  And then I realized that he hadn't packed any atomic bombs that I knew of in his suitcase.

The book's hero just advocated global nuclear Armageddon because he's annoyed with the legal system. (editor's note from the future: and Heller doesn't need a nuke to bring about an apocalypse)

Gris is in deep thought following this talk about lawsuits - what if Candy and Pinch decided to sue him for getting them pregnant?  But then Gris cheers up because he's "guilty as Hells," and "Only the innocent were ever found guilty."  So between that and Krak crying in her room, he's in a pretty good mood.  Which is of course to set up the next disaster the author will visit upon Soltan Gris.

Little did I know the next horror coming my way.

I was about to get the anvil's view of the hammer.

I thought in most cases the anvil doesn't get to see the hammer, but rather the object the hammer is striking upon the anvil.

Wait, anvils don't have eyes.  Stop confusing me with your alien metaphors, Gris!

Back to Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Nine

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Nine - Shabby Lawninja

So at five o'clock sharp, Gris' eyes are viewed to his viewscreen like a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Krak and Heller are driven back to their apartment, and:

They ascended in the elevator.

Heller unlocked the door at the top and stepped into the small hall.  The Countess Krak was right behind him

A shabby man in a shabby overcoat with a shabby hat pulled over his eyes stepped out from behind a potted plant.

"Jerome Terrance Wister?" he said.

Heller stopped.

The man shoved a court summons into his hand.  "You are duly served in the matter of Spread vs. Wister," he said and then bolted down the fire escape.

"What is it, dear?" said the Countess Krak.

"I don't know," said Heller, "but he almost got himself shot."

And yet nowhere did we see Heller produce, aim, or threaten the guy with a handgun.  But later we'll be told that he had one all along.

Also strange that none of the dozen members of the apartment's staff heard this shabby guy break in or bumped into him while tidying up the place for their master.  I could also point out the weirdness of a shabby lawyer deciding to break into someone's home to serve them a legal document, though this is undoubtedly satire of how criminal those shabby lawyers are, always skulking about and lurking in shadows to stick someone with a subpoena.

But now for the heartbreaking dissolution of one of the greatest romances ever to be expressed in a satirical science-fiction dekalogy:

He started to toss the paper aside.

The Countess Krak took it from him.

She read a short distance into it.

She went white.

Then suddenly she marched into the salon, across it, to her room and slammed the door!

I had connected!

Yep.  That's it.  That's how it happens.  That's all it takes.

Heller stood there, rooted.

Then he went to her door.  It was locked.

"Dear," he said through the closed portal, "could you tell me what this is all about?"

She was lying on the bed face down with the legal paper crumpled in her hand.  She was crying!

"Dear," he called.  "Is there something wrong?"

Hmm, that depends.  Does your girlfriend often storm out of the room to lock herself in her chambers, crying?  If so, then you might be fine.  Otherwise yes, something's wrong.  Dumbass.

So for half an hour Heller keeps at it, trying to get a response out of Krak, but she refuses to say anything.  Until she does decide to say something.

At length she replied through the closed door "Go away!  You lied to me.  You had a woman after all!"  And then she wailed, "You got her pregnant!"

After that she would say no more.

Oh, I really writhed in glee.  What a hit!  This would finish everything!

And that's that.  Gris declares the operation a success and gets up to do something else.  Heller evidently doesn't even try to explain that being accused of a crime does not necessarily mean that you are guilty of it.  And Krak decides that the little piece of paper delivered by a shabby burglar confirms all of her fears and jealousies, so she doesn't even need to confront her boyfriend over them, just skip straight to the crying breakup.

An idiotic scheme devised by an idiotic villain that's successful because of idiotic heroes.  Mission Earth, ladies and gentlemen.

Like I said, Gris is jubilant that he saved Rockecenter's polluting ways, and the "sudden surge of optimism" convinces him to go back to Miss Pinch's apartment for more money, since he's pretty broke at this point.  He hikes back to the Gigolo Gris Subplot and is met by a curiously expressionless Candy and Pinch, who proceed to hose him down with bug spray, "The Deadly Kind."  He's returned from the wino hotel covered in cockroaches, you see.

So half a page passes of Gris getting coated in pesticides while his clothes get dumped in an incinerator.  He showers and prepares for bed, Candy and Pinch approach in their nightgowns, and Gris admits he doesn't feel up to any hanky-panky, but they weren't gonna ask anyway.  They don't want to miscarry, see.  They're pregnant.

Cold terror gripped me by the throat!

The whole room spun around me!  I was totally disoriented!  I wanted to tell them no, no, you're all mixed up.  It was Heller who got girls pregnant.

"I've never been in Kansas!" I wailed.

What, you didn't think you could use that super-penis with impunity, did you?  Especially since the doctor who enhanced it also had a fetish for increasing his patients' odds of conception. 

But they were both gone.  And all that night, I lay in the dark, spinning.

Now and then I would say to the walls, "I am Officer Gris.  I am not a combat engineer.  My name is not Heller.  I am Officer Gris.  Miss Pinch is not Maizie Spread.  This is New York.  My name is not Heller. . . ."

It was a very terrible and eerie experience.

And a plot point, but we'll get to that later.

But there you have it.  A great gulf has been driven between Heller and Krak, all thanks to their jaw-dropping inability to bridge it through basic communication.  Gris has meanwhile gone back to his life as some sort of lesbian-busting superhero, but is now faced with some of the consequences of his history of unprotected sex.  So bad things are happening to the heroes and villain alike, and the main plot has once again slowed to a crawl.

And we'll keep reading, I guess.  'cause we, uh, care deeply what happens to these characters.  And can't wait to see where this roller-coaster of a story takes us next.  Yep.

Back to Chapter Eight

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Eight - Foxy-Eyed Lawyers Doing the Happy Dance

Gris paces for a bit, trying to figure out how he can destroy his enemies if they won't read the flippin' newspaper, but then gets hit with more "INSPIRATION!"  I regret not keeping a tally of how many times a completely random idea has landed in Gris' head to jolt the plot forward.

He rushes out of his cockroachy hotel room and fifteen minutes later arrives at a disreputable and, of course, shabby building.  The first floor is a "porno store," the second a massage parlor, the third the local chapter of the National Association of Mental Stealth (still a bloody stupid name), but the plot-relevant fourth floor holds the offices of Dingaling, Chase and Ambo.

Like... they hear the dingaling of a siren, and then chase the ambo-lance?  Humor?

Anyway, Gris is "about to unleash the most terrible weapon ever devised: the American legal system!"  Yes, it took 219 pages, but we're finally getting around to the intense courtroom drama promised in the translator's note.  After meeting Mr. Dingaling, "a baldheaded man with foxy, shifting eyes," Gris is introduced to Chase and Ambo, "two other baldheaded men with foxy, shifting eyes."  Gris declares himself to be Madison's boss and challenges them to call the man to confirm this, though he orders them not to reveal that he's in their office.

No, he doesn't explain why he's hiding from Madison, or why he thinks Madison won't be able to deduce that the guys calling to confirm Gris' identity might have met him at some point.

The lawyers aren't too excited when Gris says there's real potential in this Wister case, since they know the Whiz Kid is Madison's fabrication.  But then Gris drops his bombshell - Madison's Whiz Kid is in fact a double.  "The REAL Wister lives in a ten-million dollar penthouse on Central Park West, has a domestic staff of twelve and is driven to his posh office in the Empire State Building in a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit."  Or, as the lawyers put it, there's a "defenseless millionaire" out there just beggin' to be subpoenaed.

Gris fills them in with the necessary details, suggests that they schedule the fateful delivery for five o' clock that afternoon, and lets himself out while the lawyers "made a ring and were dancing round and round in their office, shouting in hysterical joy."  End chapter, which is barely over two pages long.

So... well, this is definitely an improvement over the whole "create an elaborate fantasy world and hope people are dumb enough to believe it over the real world" plan.  But I can't help that think that we're getting away from the Death Quest promised on the cover.  Now we're moving into a legal drama, or more specifically Heller's attempts to run away from his legal problems.  There will be boats, even before we formally begin our Voyage of Vengeance.  And of course, Gris will have sex with lesbians.

I think the author may even be able to work a minor into sexual situations as well.  As tastefully done satire, of course.

Back to Chapter Seven 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Seven - Spore Rings, Microwaves, and Feline Literacy

So after that headline about the paternity suit, Gris can't wait to see Krak's reaction - after all, she's quite "prone to jealousy.  One glimpse of that paternity story would blow the lid off.  She might simply leave him!"  But not kill him, remember, because it's not safe for Heller to be killed yet.  He still needs to write those coded reports to...

So it's been what, a year?  And if I remember correctly he's written a whopping one report.  So is he due for another one soon?  Might that give Gris a chance to see where Heller's hidden that platen of his?  Or have we dropped that subplot entirely?

Anyway, Gris is disappointed to spy Krak and Heller listening to Rigoletto, an opera "where everyone kills everybody and even drowns them in a sack still singing," instead of the news on the Rolls-Royce's radio.  They drive from their ultra-luxurious non-shabby fully-butler'd apartment to their not-quite-as-luxurious but still tastefully-decorated offices in the Empire State Building, and completely ignore the stacked and folded morning papers waiting for them there.

Heller makes a business call to Florida, trying to reconcile his spore factory's needs with local ordinances about the permissible height of smokestacks in swamp properties.  He needs his "propulsion stacks" to be five hundred feet high, because of "impulsion."

"They've got to blow rings," he said.  "Big green rings of spores.  If they are not propelled high enough, they won't reach the stratospheric winds.  One goes every minute and if the stacks are any shorter, the perfection of the ring will foul and the resultant tumble will impede successive firings.  They have to be five hundred feet tall."

Since we're talking about magical green spores being fired out of towers by alien science, there's not much you can say here - maybe he can't reduce the firing rate for some reason, and maybe the magic spores being fired in a ring formation as opposed to a rhombus shape is absolutely critical.  And hey, near the equator the stratosphere starts about ten miles up, so Heller needs every foot of "propulsion stack" he can get.

Krak meanwhile is giving a lecture to fifty of the country's best electrical engineers, gathered together under Power, Power, Power Inc.  She tells them all about beaming electricity through microwaves, which might be new to them (it shouldn't be), and then tries to explain to these certified electricians that "if we regard power as a stream of water which yet can be beamed and focused, we can see that a central collection station in a country may receive power from a source and then deflect and focus it to subreceivers which, in turn, can focus it upon consumption units."  Standard Voltarian power distribution stuff, even Krak can talk about it.

And Gris freaks out, because this threatens Rockecenter's energy monopoly built on wonderful, polluting coal and petroleum.  "So what if, as the environmentalists said, Rockecenter practices were wrecking the atmosphere?  The environmentalists were missing the whole point!  The action was PROFITABLE and that was everything!"

But here's the thing - Krak is talking about microwave energy transmission.  As in, you shoot electric energy to another point without using wires.  But correct me if I'm wrong, that electricity still has to come from somewhere, right?  And Heller hasn't talked about shooting a solar collection satellite up into orbit to beam down some energy to microwave around.  So unless Rockecenter's invested heavily in power lines, this shouldn't threaten him much. (editor's note from the future: as it happens, Heller does have plans for a satellite, but we'll have to wait for Book 8 to experience that stupidity)

Which isn't to say that Heller doesn't have an alternative fuel source that does threaten Rockecenter's energy monopoly.  He brought out that magic carburetor as early as Book Two.  But this microwave energy isn't nearly as big a deal as that.

So half an hour later Krak is done, and she and Heller chat about those backward engineers "shedding a few prejudices about energy," and they do get out a newspaper, but only to use as a plate for cat food.

The only one reading that newspaper was the cat!

Then I knew what it was.  It was a policy they must have.  A conspiracy!  You could only be happy on the planet if you never read newspapers or listened to the news.

But not watch the news on the TV, evidently.  Huh.  And no mention of TVs in Heller's apartment or office.  That seems a... rather significant oversight.

And while this was perfectly true, it gave them no license to gang up on me.

That beautiful story was failing!

Operation: Hope They Read a Newspaper And Believe It is in peril!

She was going right on helping Heller to undermine everything worthwhile: MONEY!

Between the two of them they were going to salvage life on this planet!  Oh, the villainy of it!

I knew I would have to act!

And not the "give Madison a newspaper idea and hope for the best" kind of act, no.  Gris is going to go talk to an entirely different set of people and then hope for the best.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, February 18, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Six - Read All About It?

Suddenly, four in-story days pass in the space of a single chapter.  Guess Hubbard found his muse again?  Or he got really caught up in his own work, in the excitement of this section about... hoping people read the newspaper?

The first day's headline describes how the Purity League has been petitioning New York's governor to pardon the Whiz Kid.  Meanwhile in reality, Heller is trying to convince his British chauffeur to let him modify the new car so it can run on a chunk of asphalt, but is met with a paraphrased, very British paragraph about how he'd have to petition the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to customize his property, and "the Rolls would do better to just go on being a Rolls."

Another paragraph is spent listing how many maids and gardeners and butlers Krak hires for their new apartment.  I'm starting to wonder if there wasn't a rival, nine-volume series about an alien secret agent on Earth that Hubbard was trying to one-up.  "Oh yeah?  Well my alien commando has three gardeners, a butler, a chef, a cook, two housemen, two security guys, and a personal maid for his girlfriend.  Your story sucks!"

Nobody but Gris pays attention to the newspaper.

The second day's headline is about the Whiz Kid getting pardoned by the governor on account of his newfound virtue.  Meanwhile Krak and Heller go to the ROTC regimental ball and are well-dressed and dance and stuff.  All the other men there are awestruck by the Countess' beauty, and all the women are jealous of her.  And never the other way around. 

But nobody reads the paper.  Or notices that the two people in the middle of the dance floor who look just like humans are in fact aliens.  Gris starts to wonder whether Lombar's taken over the Council yet and can give him the go-ahead to just kill Heller, reminding us of yet another subplot that's sitting on the tarmac, waiting for the go-ahead.

The third day's headline has the Whiz Kid being honored by the WASP Purity League for being so damn pure and stuff.  The fictional character within the fictional story promises to use his influence to stop mattress makers from producing double beds.  The dinner raised money for the "Campaign for Suppression of Puerto Ricans, whose sexual licentiousness has long been a target of the League."  Is it satire when a racist author includes a fictional racist organization in his story?

Heller eats ice cream while Krak talks about her attempts to train Twoey, specifically how he sometimes mutters about how people should be "sent to the slaughter pens" when he doesn't get his way.  They put it down to heredity - some people are just evil, y'know?  And shouldn't be allowed to breed?  Heller does note that Twoey seems strangely devoted both to him and Izzy, and wonders if Krak has been tampering with his brains.  She gives the usual "Me, Jettero?" response because shattering peoples' psyches and rebuilding them as your slaves is cute and funny.

Nobody reads the paper.  I'm starting to think that Gris' plan might have a flaw or two...

The next day's headline is the biggest yet: "WHIZ KID NAMED IN PATERNITY SUIT!"  A two billion dollah lawsuit from a farmer's daughter!  The poor girl believed that dastardly Whiz Kid's story about shielding her complexion from the sun with his body, and then five months later she found herself "all swole up with child."

Oh, what a story!  And the other papers, particularly the sexier ones,

The Sun?

went into wild orgies of description of what had happened.  One even pictured the Whiz Kid as dancing in the moonlight with rabbits all around and shouting to them, "Come, come!  Let me protect you from the sun!  With fifty strokes!"

The trap was sprung!

Assuming Krak and Heller do what they haven't for the past three days, i.e. read the paper.

Back to Chapter Five 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Five - Jettero Heller Has a Sweeter Crib Than You, Always

Bah, no such luck.  About a good night's sleep, I mean.  Sure, the fact that Heller finally has a British luxury car and a chauffeur to drive it put my mind at ease, but then I started thinking, where's he gonna go in that car?  His office slash apartment?  Now his ride is nicer than his crib.  Oh, if only these fictional characters had better living accommodations, then I could feel better about my own life.

Gris apparently spends the rest of the night watching his foes settle "the boy" in at the farm, then reports that the next morning's paper shouted about how the Whiz Kid had joined the "WASP Purity League" and given up his criminal ways.  The reader will probably be able to identify this as a set-up so the later revelation that the Whiz Kid is living in sin will be all the more shocking.  All Gris can say is that "I was not quite sure which direction this was going to go.  But I knew Madison by now.  He was on the trail of something hot."

So he goes back to watching the viewscreens in hopes that Krak or Heller will pick up the newspaper and be like what the eff, I wasn't in Kansas, and then they'd dismiss everything else they heard in the media since it was obviously fake.  Excuse me, pick up the newspaper and be stopped in their tracks!  Or... what's the objective again?

We went from hiring a hitman to kill the Countess Krak, to swearing a "deadly oath" to "terminate that awful woman," to spreading bad publicity about the Whiz Kid.  For one glorious sentence it looked like Gris was considering taking matters into his own hands, but immediately afterward he went back to trying to get others to do everything for him while he sat and watched.  And it's unclear what exactly this has to do with killing Krak in the first place.  It seems more like he's gone back to his "make Krak insane with jealousy so she murders Heller" plan.

Krak and Heller get driven home in their wonderful new car and wonderful British chauffeur, and then the cat goes bonkers when they step back into the apartment, running around in circles and yowling until it calms down long enough for them to pet him.  I think the author might have confused cats with dogs here. 

Izzy comes in and has a similar excited reaction, only he's waving documents around instead of running around in circles.  He explains that our friend Mamie Boomp sold Atlantic City to the Crown Prince of "Saudi Yemen," who has long coveted the Miss Americas and now will be able to "have his pick of them, year after year."  ...Yay?  The line about American beauty pageant contestants ending up as part of a presumed harem is immediately followed by Izzy saying "Oh, what a businesswoman Mamie Boomp turned out to be!"  I guess if the characters aren't bothered, we shouldn't be either.

Boomp has stayed on as president and the staff contracts have been honored blah blah blah the important thing, and what Izzy takes Krak and Heller to tour, is that some of the properties Boomp got in exchange include "eight posh apartment houses in Manhattan" overlooking Central Park.  And Izzy always said "Miss Joy" was too beautiful to live in an office.

Could it be?  Dare I hope?

Before them spread a pillared interior.  The columns were light tan and around them coiled designs in glittering stones, edged and banded in gold.  The floor was colored marble squares.  The furniture was scrolled and curving.  A very posh place.  Like a palace!

"Fifteen rooms!" said Izzy.  "Surrounded by so much roof garden it takes three gardeners to keep it up.  And the whole next floor below for servants and storage.  Do you like it?"

"Beautiful!" said the Countess Krak.

"It's your home," said Izzy.

And there you have it, one of the great lessons of Mission Earth.  No matter how life treats you, no matter how down you're feeling, no matter how worthless you consider your existence, there is one thing you must always remember: Jettero Heller will always have a luxurious home to live in, on Earth, in space, or back home on Voltar.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Four - Two Dirty Armenians

Short chapter, transitive chapter.  Nothing's really happening, but characters are moving into position for the next plotline.  The kind of chapter that makes you wonder why you'd bother slicing up a book into such dinky, three-page episodes.

The next day's headline is about the Whiz Kid surrendering to police and being extradited from Kansas for trial in New York, and Gris presumably smiles evilly to himself as he watches Madison "set the stage."  Both of the... well, they're not the story's protagonists, and I hesitate to call them "good guys."  Let's call them Krak and Heller.  Their viewscreens are coming through loud and clear, meaning they're within the two hundred mile standard range, and sure enough Gris can see the New York skyline from the farm they're visiting.

With them is Pig Boy, who the narration goes from calling Delbert John II to Delbert Second to "the boy" within the space of a page.  Krak is calling him "Twoey."  That's a terrible name, but Mission Earth is a series full of terrible names.  Twoey it is.

Twoey is yellin' and hollerin' and runnin' 'round the rental trucks, talking to his pigs, introducing them to their new home, and is able to give a squealing call to get all the porkers out of the trailers and into the pens.  He loves his new home: "Jus' smell that breeze from the othah fahms.  What a beeootiful aroma of pigs!"  The property doesn't actually have a house, but Twoey offers to sleep in the pens with his livestock family.

"No," said Heller.  "That won't do."

"It's just fahn with me," said the boy.  "These yere two men that come with the place and me will make out great."

Heller looked at two very dirty men who stood nearby, evidently Armenians.  They were nodding brightly.

Evidently how, Hubbard?  Were they in the Armenian national costume (whatever that is)?  Wrapped in Armenian flags?  Flashing their Armenian passports?  Did they conform to some sort of physical stereotype of what an Armenian should look like that you the author ascribe to and assume the reader will understand?  Is it the dirt that makes them Armenian? 

Two careless words in an unimportant sentence in an uneventful chapter make me spend ten minutes flipping forwards and backwards through the rest of the wretched book, searching for something that will make them make sense.  It's like the author is reaching out from the pages, through the years, and beyond the grave to punch me in the forehead.

Let it not be said that Hubbard can't connect with his readers.

Not much else to the chapter.  Krak convinces Heller to leave one of the motor homes and its staff at the farm for Twoey both as a home, and as her base when she's over, ominous pause, quote training endquote the kid.  Heller praises the land yacht's crew and gives them bonuses, Gris is revolted that those Fleet officers have no idea how to properly fire someone.  Then the Countess announces that someone's offering to sell a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit with a complementary English chauffeur.  In an amazing coincidence, I was lying awake in bed last night, grinding my teeth, bitterly lamenting the fact that my hero, Jettero Heller, didn't have someone to drive him around in a boxy, bland, British saloon car.  I think I'll have sweet dreams this evening.

Fifty thousand dollars, credit card, Mudur Zengin, security deposit, "The trap I had laid absolutely HAD to work!"

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Three - That Deadly Weapon, Morality

Right, let's see what we can do to get this plot moving.  Leave her in neutral and put your backs into it, lads.

Gris realizes that he might be putting the cart before the horse here, and that gathering intelligence is a waste of time if you have no way of acting on it - or to use his words, "It is no good, I discovered, to do a plan to use a tank and then have no tank to gather."  He looks around, but nobody's left a tank in his hotel room, so he concludes that he'll have to use his brains.

What he actually uses is the power of contrivance.  Gris just so happens to notice, underneath the cockroaches, an old newspaper that just so happened to be left in his room, and which just so happened to have a headline about someone's morality being called into question.

It was an omen!


I well knew Voltar customs were different.  The tremendous life expectancy there meant that one had to be pretty sure who he or she was marrying before taking the plunge: otherwise one could be stuck with an unsuitable partner for a century and a half.  So it was quite unusual for a man and a woman

And only a man and a woman, thank you very much.

to live together for anything up to two years before tying the final knot.

So... not all that different from Earth, then.

The only way you could get a "divorce" in the Confederacy was by finding the other partner guilty of bigamy or adultery and getting them executed, as the penalty for those was death.  So marriage was a totally fatal step.


But Earth customs, I knew

No, go back, why is Voltarian marriage absolute and final?  Why is the price for infidelity death?  And what do these things have to do with life expectancy?  What about the expected duration of a marriage makes it a capital crime to end it?  Why does the government feel the need to enforce these measures?  What is the reasoning behind them?  Religious?  Economic, so that voiding a marriage is viewed like trying to back out of a business merger?  Something even more nonsensical?

You're never gonna tell us, are you, Master Storyteller?

But Earth customs, I knew, were much different. One was expected to take the plunge without any data at all on the other person. They frowned heavily on loose living, no matter how much they practiced it.

It was a weapon.

I'm not sure the 60's and 70's happened on this version of Earth.  And I guess this is still satire and insightful commentary on modern society and all that junk, except it's coming from a perspective of vicious marital conservatism.  So what, we gonna say the Voltarians are right?  Death to adulterers?  Enforce "'til death do you part" with the electric chair?

Gris takes his new "weapon" to the office of our old friend, Madison the anti-publicist, who's complaining that he's lost the front page (oh noes!) ever since sending the Whiz Kid to Kansas.  Gris speaks for all of us and asks "What's this fixation on Kansas?" and Madison reminds us that he's trying to turn the Whiz Kid into Jesse James.  'cause when you hear about racecars and revolutionary fuel sources, you think of a train robber who died in 1882.

The bombshell is dropped - Gris reports that Heller is living with a woman, and they aren't married.  Madison thinks about it and admits that, amateur though he may be, Gris' idea has some potential.  So Gris runs back to his shabby hotel and gloats about being a spider and spinning his webs, before going back to staring at the viewscreens while Madison takes actions that he hopes will turn out to his benefit.  Like Books Three and Four all over again.

He catches Heller at a service station, joined by who the chapter will either refer to as "the gawky country boy" or just "the boy," not Richard, not Dick, not even Rockecenter the Second.  Geeseebee is of course gawking at the land yacht.

"Good golly!  Whereja get this big motor home?  That's the flashiest vehicle I ever see!"

Heller said, "I think my girl stole it."

It'd be nice to know how he said it.  With a wry smile?  A genuine grin?  A worried frown?  Sadly?  Approvingly?  Golly gee, it sure would be nice to have some way to identify with the character we're supposed to be rooting for, but we can't really empathize with him if we don't know what he's thinking or feeling.

Heller introduces Geeseebee to his "mob," and the kid is quite excited to meet "Bang-Bang Rimbombo, the most notorious car bomber in New York," because there are good murderers and bad murderers, and it turns out to come down to whether or not your outfit helps the people you don't kill get high.  He's also delighted to learn that all his pigs will be coming along too.  Then Krak walks into sight and gets out Gris' credit card to pay for all the diesel.

I turned the viewers off hastily.

But never mind, flies.  The web is spread and you are flying straight into it.

This web, with one strand in it, subcontracted to a second spider with an extremely hit-and-miss record when it comes to fly captures.  And I'm gonna watch you, and watch that other spider, and hope that you run into each other, like the master manipulator I am.

The attack might be slow but I was sure it would be deadly.  I knew Madison.  I had seen the gleam in his eye.  There would be a kill!

Yeah.  "Kill."  This guy's one success was convincing a mob boss to cut ties with Heller, which ended up merely setting him back a bit since he was able to become insanely wealthy with his magic telescope.  Again, Madison's ability to create an alternate reality for an imaginary Whiz Kid to play in only affects the plot when someone is stupid enough to believe it.

But as luck would have it, there happens to be someone close to Heller who latches onto ideas even though they aren't grounded in reality, then acts on them.  Someone who avoids attempts to clarify miscommunication.  Someone with a stubborn loyalty to worst-case scenarios and misunderstandings.  So the question is, how many chapters will it take for this person to read a newspaper?

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter Two - Species Confusion

Gris' knowledge of the dark arts of psychology doesn't allow him to notice when he's unconsciously making excuses to sit around and watch TV.

The next part of the campaign was "3. PLAN BEFORE YOU ATTACK."

Accurate planning requires data.  Accordingly, I brushed the cockroaches off my viewers to see what the most horrible monster in the universe was up to now.

They were still in Virginia!

What about that last sentence justified an exclamation point?

Heller is actually sunbathing next to the parked land yacht and its support motor home, the crew's out sipping mixed drinks and playing cards, and then Krak drives up with Bang-Bang.  It's at this point that Gris realizes whoops, her viewscreen's blank because "I had her activator-receiver and 831 Relayer here and I was probably four hundred miles or more away!"

Just to reiterate how all this works - if the bugs are within 200 miles of the receiver, all's well.  If the bugs are more than 200 miles away, nothing gets through unless the 831 Relayer is turned on, extending their range to 10,000 miles.  But if the bugs are within 200 miles and the Relayer is turned on, the signal is overwhelming and shorts out the viewers or something.  These are the three states of the alien neural espionage implants, with no transition stages in-between.

I'd also like to remind everyone that this same civilization produced telescopes that can see through walls or peer a day into the future.  But they can't rig the relayers to, like, look through time and figure out when they need to boost or dampen their signal, or something similarly contrived.

Krak has evidently been training "young Rockecenter," who the book just hates calling Richard "Dick" Roe.  She's gotten him to use water to bathe instead of mud, and stop grunting and scratching his back by rubbing up against things, but he still refuses to eat at a table and will push unwanted food away with his nose...

I actually went back over the past couple of chapters and checked to see if I missed a comment about poor Dick mistakenly ending up in the barn to be raised by pigs.  I can't find it, but that's what seems to be implied here. 

Heller asks why Krak doesn't just use her hypno-helmet (like she ever needed his prompting to do so), but she explains that (for once) she's worried about overdoing it, and doesn't want the kid to "become a robot."  Now as best I can remember, Voltar doesn't use robots.  No spybots, no cargo-haulers in the hangars, no android soldiers, no drone aircraft.  The closest we've come to an artificial intelligence was the Apparatus computer, which was essentially a sassy search engine.  I don't count 54 Charlee Nine, the Robot-brain in the Translatophone, because I fully expect him to never appear in the actual story.

Guess someone briefed Krak on the amazing mechanical workers those primitive Earthlings have come up with.

She also sasses the Rockecenters by concluding she's not up against an environmental influence, but hereditary.  Yeah, those billionaires, always wallowing in the mud and scratching their asses on fence posts... wait, psychology is the devil and foreign to Voltar, but Krak knows about early environmental influences?  Has she been reading the forbidden texts?

All this to say, they've gotta do something about not-Richard's pigs, since he won't leave them behind.  After briefly considering making Izzy, who you'll recall is Jewish, handle the non-kosher situation, they decide that the best solution is to use Gris' credit card to buy the pigs, a farm near New York, and a fleet of trucks to transport the porkers.  So we end the chapter with Gris grinding his teeth and worrying about his Swiss bank certificate and whether Mudur Zengin would use up all his money and why?!  Why are we still talking about this?  That stupid subplot came and went last book, and all it did was get Gris to finally make an effort to do his damn job!  Why is all of this necessary?

There's one obvious answer - since Krak's using Gris' credit card, this is really a way to shower the protagonists with wealth, to allow them to buy luxury mobile homes and pig farms and so forth, because that's what makes for a good book, reading about imaginary people living in decadent comfort.  Only Heller is already stupid wealthy thanks to cheating the stock market with the aforementioned time-telescopes.  He could be paying for all this out of pocket.  But let's have the Countess do it instead, so Gris can throw a hissy fit over his security deposit.

The more likely explanation is that this money's misuse will be a future source of misery for Gris, because if this book isn't about showering Heller with praise and treasure, it's about showering Soltan Gris with misery and misfortune.

Or underaged sex.  Or curing lesbians with more sex.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, February 11, 2013

Part Forty-Seven, Chapter One - After Dozens of Anonymous Partners, Gris Takes an Interest in VD

Surprisingly enough, the book isn't over yet.

Sure, we've had an "arc" of sorts.  Gris hired a hitman, tried to set up a murder, and failed miserably.  Problem is, he failed in only 185 pages, so rather than make this series a "undecimology" we'll just have to start a new plotline and stick it in the same book.  Onward, then, to more Madison, some legal drama, more underage sexual activity, and boats!  Glorious, majestic boats to lead us into Mission Earth Volume 7: Voyage of Vengeance!

Gris decides he can't deal with Pinchy and Candy right now, and so checks in with what little money he has at a wino hotel where "they didn't even bother to sort the living from the dead."  And only now, six books into this series, does Gris decide to use the "Apparatus fundamental musts:"


Preceded of course by rule 0: "ALWAYS CAPSLOCK, ALL THE TIME."

Gris reminds us that the Apparatus' job is to undermine civilization, making "the maximum amount of trouble for the maximum amount of people for the minimum number of reasons."  The same thing that governments do, of course!  Even primitive Earth can get that part right!

Unfortunately we can't say the same about Gris.  #5 is easy - kill Krak - but the best base he can come up with for #1 is his hotel room, he jots down the time to complete #6, and when he considers #2 realizes that his only troops are himself - "Bury and Torpedo and Madison had failed me."  Again, Raht slips his mind.  Also, why isn't Bury a valuable resource?  He's a potential source of guys to kill Krak, not an assassin who failed his mission.

Anyway, Gris decides to address the "troops," i.e. himself.

What was the matter with the troops?

Venereal disease.  What with goats and dogs and Torpedo,

And twenty-odd Turkish not-hookers and random pairs of strangers delivered to your bed so you can "cure" them of lesbianism.

this was obviously the case.  While there was no sign of it, in every text you read on military matters it is a problem.  Good.

So, after a good night's sleep, Gris wakes up bright and early, which given the numbers and distances involved last chapter means that he probably got a whopping three or four hours of shuteye.  Gris spends the last two pages of this four-page chapter at a V.D. clinic.  His account of his "contact" history gets the doctor's attention.

"How long have these contacts occurred?" he solicitously.

I counted it up rapidly, using my fingers.  The first time I had collided with the Countess Krak was in Spiteos about half a year before Heller came along.  She had murdered an agent who sought to grab at her sexually.  "Thirteen months," I said.

"How do you know you got it from her?" he asked.

"She forced me into it," I said.  "If it weren't for her I would never have had any association with dogs or goats or llamas from Peru."

Which leads to a ten-day montage of shots and medical treatments that leaves Gris nearly broke, but he can say with absolute confidence that he has no sign of STDs.  The doctor advises him to "terminate any association" with the woman who put him in that situation, so it's like ironic and funny and crap when Gris mentally agrees that oh yeah, he'll terminate that Krak all right.  Terminate her to death.  By killing her.

This will of course involve sitting on his pallid alien ass while watching the viewscreens and trying to get Madison's world of negative publicity to have an impact on Heller's life.  So back to Book 3's plot.  Or was it Book 4?  Mission Earth is one big blur of Gris sitting around, Gris running around desperately trying to get his subordinates to do something, or Gris giving up and wasting time in Turkey.

Back to Part Forty-Six, Chapter Seven

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Part Forty-Six, Chapter Seven - Torpedo's Wrath

I probably should have hyped this chapter last time instead of dwelling on the callous treatment of a recently-slain cast member.  I could've said something like, "next time, on Mission Spork, Torpedo will strike, and someone will die."  Missed opportunities for, like, tension and crap.

Since Heller's just going home, and Gris' innate Plot Sense indicates that he won't be saying anything important during the ride, the Apparatus agent switches to the Countess Krak's viewer.  "The young man" wakes up and thinks it's nice of her to stick around, and Krak rewards his trust by getting out a "new type of football helmet" that "teaches you."  And sure enough, she puts the mind-control helmet on the kid and flips the switch.  It's for the mission, you see.  Free will, even people's identities, all must be sacrificed for the good of Jettero Heller's mission to save the world from itself.  Such a lofty objective elevates you above the petty laws of the sinful earth, or the morality of the blinkered masses.

We don't see how Krak programs Junior the Second, though.  Gris is watching her thinking what a tempting target she makes, sitting with her back to the window, and can't wait for Torpedo to strike.  So there's that magical moment where he hears Torpedo's voice shout "GOT YOU!" and he wonders how Krak couldn't have heard that.

Snipers normally shout "GOT YOU!" just before they pull the trigger, right?  From their hidden vantage spots half a mile away?

Dramatic reveal!  Torpedo is in Gris' motel room!  He's real mad, and accusing Gris of setting him up and tipping off the cops at the hospital!  He had to ditch the car and walk back!  And not only is that worth a gut-shot, he's also super-mad Gris didn't tell him that the girl he was supposed to kill was the girlfriend of the guy who trounced him last year!  Obviously Gris meant for Heller to kill him, too!  I can't seem to end a sentence in anything but an exclamation point!

Yeah, this deadly killer saw cops waiting at a hospital, panicked, and ran home... but stuck around long enough to see Krak and Heller at the same time?

Oh, and he's also dumb enough to explain why he's mad, and how he's gonna kill and violate and give STDs to Gris' corpse, which of course gives Gris enough time to take advantage of the undescribed "preparations" he made several chapters ago.  Before Torpedo can shoot, Gris activates his "Apparatus radio relay ring," setting off the "vibration speaker" he planted on the balcony railing, so that it emits a scream.  Torpedo whirls, Gris yanks the rug out from under him and sends the hitman over the balcony.  He can't find his gun (and won't touch anything Torpedo's been holding), but quickly gathers up the rest of his stuff and scampers outside to his escape vehicle, the manure truck he took an interest in earlier.  He speeds off, belatedly concluding that it would have been safer to try and stomp Torpedo's head in while he was stunned on the pavement, but it's too late for that now.

We get a page of Gris driving across Virginia towards New York, stopping at gas stations and occasionally getting shot at by Torpedo, who has stolen his own pursuit vehicle.  Gris decides that since Torpedo has his address, he'll hide out at the least expected place - Torpedo's mother's house!  He shakes his would-be killer, makes it to New York, pounds on the door, Mrs. Fiaccola answers... when the hell time is it?  Heller and Biggs kept waking people up and it was after dinner before they even got started.  Seven, eight o' clock at night?  Gris starts out at Lynchburg, VA, and Google says that from there to New York is about a seven hour drive.  So it'd be somewhere between two in the morning and dawn.

Anyway, Mama Torpedo seems to understand his predicament and lets Gris enter, directing him to hide in Torpedo's room, which features a framed portrait of a leering, crooked man signed "To Torpedo, my best con, J. Q. Cortikul, Ph.D."  So... "Corti" as in "cortex," or cortex-kill, brain-kill?  Am I overthinking it?  Is this a reference grounded in the 1980's, the 1930's, or something only the author will understand?

Gris gets stuffed in the closet, but then he hears the sound of someone racing up the stairs, and Torpedo bursts into the room.  Mama Torpedo assures her son that he's gonna get a kill, points at the closet, and offers him his "leopard," or sawn-off shotgun.  But when her son reaches for it, she spins it around so that the barrel... the sawn-off barrel... is against his chin, and then "SHE PULLED BOTH TRIGGERS!"

Torpedo's head splatters across the ceiling, Mama Torpedo wipes off the shotgun's grip while the corpse topples over, then she sticks the weapon in her son's lifeless hands and gets out some gun-cleaning junk to leave at the scene of the "unfortunate accident."

Then she stood back.  "Ever since you been out of the Federal pen," she said to the dead body, "you talk psychology, psychology, psychology.  So I read up.  Now you get some psychology, you no-good, filthy, rotten philanderer of corpses!  I hope the devil makes you read psychology for the rest of infinity!"

She turned to me and beckoned me out of the closet.  "You witnessed it.  He was cleaning his gun and it went off, wasn't he?"

I nodded numbly.

"So that's the end of my no-good, carrion-(bleeping) (bleep) of a son.  And a pleasure it is to see him lying there dead even without the twenty-five thousand insurance I now get."

So there you have it - the reason we went through the hunt for "hit man insurance," so that a woman could off her offspring and profit from it.  Satire?  Irony?  Hot espionage action?  I'm assuming this isn't meant to be romance or comedy, but with these books, who know?

Gris walks out of the House of Severed Family Ties, and it finally hits him that Torpedo failed, and now it's up to him to save Lombar Hisst, Rockecenter, and the whole Voltar Confederacy by removing the Countess Krak

As I went out into the night, 

Technically morning.  Unless you drove four hundred miles in less than five hours.

I shook my fist at the sky.  "By all the stars, by all the Gods and Demons of the firmament,"

Who shall remain nameless.

I cried.  "In spite of what you are doing to me, I must prevail!  Do what thou wilt, I shall still terminate that awful woman!"

Not Heller, the guy who was actually assigned the mission.  See, Krak is the key.  If she's killed, he'll surely be slowed down and stuff.  But not enough to actually scrub the mission so the invasion happens and also screws up the Apparatus plans.

A deadly oath.

I meant it!

I'm adrift in space and time.  Are we in the middle of book five, when Gris makes a deadly oath to complete his mission?  The end of book five, when he first decides to kill Krak?  The start of this book, when he begins planning how to kill the Countess?  Did the past 185 pages even happen?  Krak and Heller certainly did stuff, but what did Gris accomplish?

Besides developing hypochondria over STDs, I mean.

Back to Part Forty-Six, Chapter Six

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Part Forty-Six, Chapter Six - The Unidentical Rockecenter Twins

I guess all this nonsense gives us an answer to the question of why it was so important that Heller look like a teenager - so he can, in a hugely convenient coincidence, pass for the brother of the true Rockecenter child.  Which leads to the follow-up question of why the true Rockecenter son couldn't have been in his late twenties, but had to be a gangly eighteen-year-old.

With the eighteen-year-old passed out from the realization of his true heritage, Krak gets Heller to sit down next to the lad, take off his shoe, and put their feet together while Biggs takes pictures.  Kinky.  Stonewall documents the matching tattoos of the "unidentical twins," then asks everyone to move on, he has something else to show them.  Krak volunteers to stay behind, and though Heller doesn't like it, Krak explains that the "poor boy" - not Dick, or Richard, we'll never use his name - will need lots of... "coaching," and "training," to prepare him for entering the world of millionaires.  She gets Sweeney to agree to help keep things quiet and press-free, while she'll stay by his side and be right there when he wakes up.  Just her and him.  No witnesses.

So Heller and Bang-Bang and Biggs head off... whoopsie, looks like they do leave Krak unattended for a couple hours.  I'll just have to go back and edit the part in chapter four where I said that wouldn't happen - don't tell anyone, okay?  Gris is absolutely elated, and counts on Torpedo taking care of the boy too.  "A setup if there ever was one!  Even quiet enough for the corpse rape!"  The corpse rape is important, remember.

So Heller and Bang-Bang and Biggs head off to wake another person up, this time at an "old-fashioned, two story, brick farmhouse."  Wonder how Gris knows it's old-fashioned?  Did he study American agriculture?  Biggs knocks on the door until it produces a "Miz Hodges" and asks the woman if she's cleaned her attic lately, which I guess is a rural Virginia equivalent of a prank call.  After hinting that she might be in for a tax deduction if he can prove her efficient use of space, the lady lets them all in to poke around her attic while she tries to get a good night's sleep.  Behind a bundle of Jefferson Davis election posters and Confederate currency - yeah, really, and keep in mind that by my Nazi Math this book is set around the turn of the millennium - Biggs digs out a dusty box of photos and letters.

First there's a picture of Mary Styles, who in another amazing coincidence looks a lot like Heller even though he was born on a different planet.  Now would be an excellent moment to explore the complex emotions of an infiltrator being introduced to his would-be mother by a misty-eyed old man convinced of their relation, buuuut Hubbard decided Gris would be narrating, so we don't get any of that. 

There's a newspaper clipping about "LOCAL GIRL JOINS ROXY CHORUS IN NEW YORK" and photos of a young Rockecenter and Mary doing coupley things like drinking from the same bottle of Coke with some straws.  Biggs says "the boy at the farm" - not Dick, or Richard, even though that's his name - takes after his father, which "w'd be the case with unidenticals, ah guess."  There's notes from "Delie" to "Mary Yum-Yum" coordinating their trysts, and then a letter from Miss Agnes.

'cuse me, Dr. Agnes Moray, Ph.D., M.D.  Her letter is to Mary's parents, informing them that after her marriage to an absurdly wealthy and powerful young man, their daughter has come down with "delirium altaphasis" from being unable to adjust to her sudden change in fortune.  So she's being kept in a secure facility until she delivers her baby and is able to get "professional psychiatric care" (ominous music).  And don't tell anyone about her marriage or pregnancy, if she found out anyone else knew she might go insane.  Here's some money to cover her care, stay quiet.  At least until I can arrange for your deaths in a car accident.

The last thing in the convenient box of keepsakes and documentation is a wedding certificate from Elkton, Maryland, "the place of instant marriages."  I am once again amazed that Gris knows this stuff.  Biggs says that the certificate proves that Heller isn't a bastard, which is such a relief - I don't think I could root for a flawless alien super-commando who stole the identity of a multimillionaire's illegitimate child, could you?

Biggs resolves to write up a birth certificate for "the other boy" - not Dick, or Richard, they'll call him Delbert John Rockecenter the Second.  Brother of Delbert John Rockecenter Junior.  Argh.

Once they get done with duplicating and forging the necessary legal documents to explain how one child become "unidentical" twins, Biggs asks Heller about chipping in to help rebuild the courthouse.  Heller agrees only if Biggs pledges "to build an absoloot ohriginal that George Washington slept in," and Biggs laughs that the smartest thing he ever did was get "th' late" Tremor Graves drunk one night.

This is the Dr. Graves who was murdered literally a few hours ago, remember.  Right in front of Biggs.

Back to Chapter Five

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Part Forty-Six, Chapter Five - Pigs as a Standard of Beauty

Stonewall Biggs he has something else to show Heller and Krak that evening.  Wonder what time it is?  They showed up after dinner, then they drove around, talked to a guy at a hospital, got shot at.  After that last bit I'd probably call it a night.

Anyway, they all load up in the land yacht, and Gris resigns himself to a blast of static from that carbon-based radiation in the thing's power plant, but conveniently a somewhat fuzzy picture is able to get through, which Gris conjectures is due to the transmitters being on the opposite end of the vehicle from whatever's causing the interference.  Even more conveniently, Heller and Krak took care of all that mushy crap off-screen, so we don't get to endure any romance or anything.  Instead Krak gets Heller to hop up on the operating table in the land yacht's surgery room...

Well... I don't know much about mobile homes.  Maybe this sort of thing isn't that uncommon for luxury land yachts.  Maybe you'd prefer a closet-sized infirmary and on-the-road, do-it-yourself surgery to stopping at an actual hospital.  You got places to go, y'know?

So while Heller reads over the late Dr. Graves' (modified) confession, Krak uses some more alien cellological equipment to put a dollar sign on his right foot.  Heller's a little uncertain about the whole thing.

"Dear," he said.  "Bury is not an honorable man.  He doesn't keep his word.  I don't think he would have given me the Wister name and birth certificate.  I think you must have gotten Graves to alter this some way."

"Me, Jettero?" she said.

D'aww, she's cute when she's feigning innocence concerning twisting peoples' minds to suit her purposes.

Before Heller can have a stern talk with his girlfriend involving the sanctity of free thought, Bang-Bang announces that they've arrived.  Biggs has led them to an "institutional sort of building," the County Agricultural Farm, aka the county poor farm.  According to Wikipedia such institutional sort of buildings disappeared by the 1950's, but this story takes place in a world of Prohibition-era gangsters, Nazis, and DDT in your home, so this isn't any more anachronistic than anything else we've seen.

A sleepy someone named Sweeney lets them in, Biggs asks to see a "Young Dick," and is directed towards the pig sheds - Dick loves his pigs, y'see.  In a small room covered with pictures of pigs cut out from magazines and stuck to the walls, they find a young blond man who, though shoeless, nevertheless bears an uncanny resemblance to Delbert John Rockecenter.  The boy thinks they're here to take him back to an agricultural college.

Hey, wanna hear Hubbard's Virginia accent again?

"Ah won' go!" he said.  "Ever' tahm ah leave heah, Sweeney, if only fo' one term, ah come back an' fin' mah pigs ahl in neglec' an' pinin' away.  You tell them fo'ks to jus' go away."

"They got guns, Dick," said Sweeney.

"Guns!" cried the boy, leaping bolt upright.  "Git away f'm heah with guns!  You ma'ht shoot a pig!"

The Countess Krak moved smoothly in.  "I'd better handle this," she said.  "Nobody is going to shoot your pigs."

"Whoosh!" said the boy, staring at her round-eyed.  "Who be you?  A angel or somethin'?  Hey, who be this, Sweeney?  Wow, she's pretty enough to be a pig!"

Not only am I sick of Virginia, I am sick of this kid less than a page after meeting him.

Krak says she's a friend and gets Young Dick to sit down and show her his foot, but even under his sock his foot is too filthy to make out anything.  Bang-Bang fetches soap and water, and after a totally unnecessary paragraph of delay we find "A DOLLAR SIGN!" on the youth's foot.  The kid is shocked.

"Well, golly be," he said.  "I ain't never noticed that afore.  

Before you criticize, ask yourself - when was the last time you looked at the sole of your foot?  Is it not conceivably possible for someone to live all eighteen years of their life without seeing the underside of their feet?

It do look lahk a dollah ma'k.  Is it some disease?  Hoof-rot mebbe?  What's it mean?  Tell me quick!"

"It means," said the Countess Krak, "that you are not a nameless

He has a name, it's Young Dick. 

orphan foundling.  It means that you are the son of the richest man in the world, Delbert John Rockecenter, found at long last."

He looked at her round-eyed.  He saw that she meant it.  And then it hit him.  He fainted dead away!

Saves her the trouble of using a hypno-helmet, I guess.  Now, I was fully expecting Krak to just fry the kid's brain and burn the tattoo off his foot with a magic Voltarian pen, but she's got something else in mind.  They're gonna keep the kid around.  Young Dick, and his pigs, are going to continue to reappear in the story.

Yeah.  More "pretty as a pig," more incomprehensible accent.  I'm looking forward to the book when we leave Earth behind and return to Voltar to find that it's been destroyed by imported psychology. (editor's note from the future: we've still got a ways to go before Book 9, but just be patient)

Back to Chapter Four