Friday, June 28, 2013

Part Fifty-Nine, Chapter One - Secrets of the Goat Cave

Well, sit right there
And you'll read a tale
A tale of a pointless trip,
A spin-off from a longer cruise
Aboard a gaudy ship

The lead was a craven imbecile
His passenger a tit
They fled in abject terror for
A three chapter bit
A three chapter bit

They left in the middle of a storm
And wallowed in the sea
Then washed up on a dismal isle
Not far 'nuff from Turkey
Not far 'nuff from Turkey

Their raft ran aground on an island that might be called Chios
With Soltan Gris, and Madison
An alien spy, and a twerp
I hope they die
But know they won't
Here on Mission-

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play,

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day!

Dammit Hubbard.

Madison, who is an invaluable asset to the Apparatus, decided to turn on a portable radio while he and Gris are hiding out from "slavers" in a cave.   Gris, who brought Madison along on the cruise and his escape attempt because he's convinced the publicist is useful, chews out his companion for his stupidity, but in the process remembers that radios exist, and that he brought his Apparatus radio.  So maybe Madison's an asset after all.  Gris is certainly the kind of guy capable of starving to death on an island with a working radio in his backpack.

Gris calls Raht for help, ordering him in "rapid military Voltarian" to contact Captain Stabb and arrange a rescue.  There are two problems, though - first, Gris only "thinks" he's on Chios, he isn't actually certain, so Raht runs off to the office to get ahold of better equipment that could get a fix on his location.

The second problem is that the absolutely essential Madison starts asking questions like "What language are you speaking?"  And then he starts pawing through all the papers and passports that fell out of Gris' backpack when he got out the radio, finding not only Gris' various aliases, but Gris' Coordinated Information Apparatus gate pass with three-dimensional Voltarian script.  And that's what we call a Code Break.  For the first time in seven books, this gimmick may have an effect on the plot.  Madison knows too much.

Then, much as it was unlike me, I stayed my hand as it reached instinctively toward the machine gun.  Madison was too valuable.  Madison could wreck men's lives and start wars and raise Hells in a way Voltar had never heard of: PR.  Lombar was always looking for ways to ruin people and this was one he had never heard of.

Yes, Madison the uncontrollable hack writer who ultimately failed in his mission to stop Heller in his tracks, is just too valuable to kill.  Gris decides to ship him off to Voltar instead, where the boss who is presently taking over the Confederacy without the magic of PR will surely have need of someone like Madison.

I had to dissimulate.  But I am trained in that.  I forced a chuckle.  "Your instincts as an investigative reporter will get you in trouble yet, Madison," I said.  "Just don't spread it around and you'll find out all about it someday."

"Oho!" he said.  "I smell a story!  Eighteen-point mystery man tells all."

He sealed his fate right there.

Again, this is the ideal guy to work with an undercover intelligence agency that hopes to secretly rule an empire.

Gris is singlehandedy going to destroy the entire Confederacy, isn't he?  (editor's note from the future: indirectly, and only for a given value of "destroy") He's like this book's Terl, isn't he?  Well, only if he manages to doom his race to extinction.  We can only hope, there's still three books to go. (editor's note from the future: don't be foolish, Gris could never doom the wonderful Jettero Heller and the lovely Countess Krak)

...Hey, didn't Hubbard work "Home on the Range" into Battlefield Earth, too?

Back to Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Seven

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Seven - The Sea Tries to Kidnap and Cook Gris

Three sentences into the chapter and Gris is already puking.  Turns out trying to ride a dinky inflatable raft in a storm may not be the best idea.  Not that getting onto the yacht he launched from was a good idea to begin with.

Since Gris is busy expelling "anything I had eaten in three days!" ...huh, guess Voltarians have infrequent bowel movements.  Or maybe Gris is constipated.  Anyway, Madison gets to row, because remember, Gris decided that any motor the yacht's crew offered would be sabotaged.  The most Gris contributes is attempting and failing to bail out the flooding dingy.

There's dialogue, but it's annoying.

"There's a fast current running here," said Madison above the hiss of the downpour.  "Did you see how fast we sped away from the ship?  Or maybe it's the wind.  No, there isn't any wind.  Yes, I think there is some wind. . . ."  He was holding up a finger to test it.  A wave knocked his hand down.  "No, there isn't any wind.  It's the waves.  Yes, I think it's the wind. . . ."

"Oh, Gods, make up your mind!" I yelled, trying to bail with my straw hat.

"I'm much better with a typewriter," said Madison.  "Give me a nonbouncing desk and I could handle this.  Eighteen-point quote storm unquote 20-point quote storm subsides unquote 22-point quote Madison saved. . . ."

I think he's implying that he could banish the squall with the power of Public Relations.  Remember, this is the supremely valuable asset Gris risked life and limb to bring along.

They eventually spot a nearby island, by the light of "the moon far above this holocaust"... the moon above the storm they're under... And Gris freaks out at the "snarl" [of the surf] and the teeth [also the surf] of the monster he's convinced is after him.  He passes out during the landing when he thinks that "the sea had decided to take me off to its cave where it could eat me at leisure."

It's really hard to read this book sometimes.

He wakes up to find that Madison had saved him... accidentally, having dragged the raft ashore and found Gris tangled in a line.  They stagger further inland onto what Gris takes as the ruins of the Bronze Age city of Emborios, because Gris knows a lot about ancient Greek archaeological sites.  Of course, Emborios is as best I can tell located on the island of Kalymnos, while Gris thinks they're on the island of Chios, so there's a distinct possibility that he's an idiot.

They find a cave full of goats to take shelter in, and there ends the chapter, Part and Gris' voyage.  Yes, no more chapters about Gris' uninteresting exploration of foreign countries, no more hashish-fueled sex romps in the yacht's suite with an underage girl.

The bad news is that all those lovely Turkey subplots are about to make their reappearance.

Back to Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Six 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Six - Abandon Ship

Stupid Firefox update messing with text sizes and messing with my eyes... oh, right, daring escape or something.

Gris has "TWO HOURS!" until Jowls comes back with the money Teenie wants before sending the boat to Turkey.  He quickly decides to escape to the nearby Greek isle of Chios before those mean Turkish women stone him to death, and goes back to his room.  He elects not to pack anything due to both time constraints and the fact that "anything that had to do with Teenie was bad luck."  Instead he'll just be throwing on some clothes and grabbing a few pieces of vital equipment.

I grabbed some clothes at random and began to hurl them on: running shorts, a business jacket, a straw hat, scuba slippers.

In case you were wondering how to defuse the tension of an escape sequence, here you go: dress your main character like a clown.

Then we spend two paragraphs on Gris' gun.  He wants something silenced in case he has to deal with the crew (why not just deal with Teenie?), and it's suddenly revealed that he bought "an old American International Model 180" from a Palermo street vendor when we weren't looking.  I can't figure out what weapon Hubbard is referring to, but it's a .22 caliber fully-automatic machine gun with a 1,200 round-per-minute rate of fire and drum magazines.  And a silencer.  It is both an "ugly short thing" and a rifle Gris slings on his back.  And yes, Gris knows how to assemble it.  Guess all he did on his Earth missions was lounge about in Turkey, watch old gangster movies, and dis- and reassemble vintage guns.

He decides to store the three spare magazines in his life jacket by ripping out the flotation material.  Even Gris realizes this may compromise the vest's buoyancy, but then he "suddenly" thinks of Madison, and abandons his old train of thought to go rescue the publicist.  See, in the event that the nebulous "they" who are after Gris seize the yacht, and they decide to capture Madison, and the story makes it to the papers, and the Countess Krak reads the paper, Gris doesn't want her flying across the world to try to interrogate Madison.  Gris has apparently forgotten his earlier "his sinister PR arts could be useful" reasoning for bringing Madison along in the first place, not that it was really important beyond putting Madison in a position to be sent to Voltar.

Gris sneaks into Madison's room and informs the publicist that "the Mafia bribed the captain to make eunuchs of us and sell us into slavery."  Madison bursts into tears and gets dressed, and Gris leaves him on deck before procuring an escape vehicle.  The captain and crewmen are talking about putting up "drifting lights" for safety reasons, but Gris knows that they're for signalling the other boat!  So he pulls the silenced automatic riflemagig on them and, over their protests that the seas are terrible, gets them to ready an inflatable boat for him to escape on.  He has to spray some (silenced) bullets over their heads to get them to cooperate, which ends up bringing a mangled light down on the captain before he can say something that surely wasn't important.

Hey, quick question - why is abandoning ship the best course of action?  Maybe hijacking the yacht back from Teenie's influence would be more practical?  Or perhaps Gris could set an ambush for Jowls and gun him down?  Wait, no, we need Jowls alive later for the big reveal, and we need to avoid talking to the captain to set up the next few chapters.

The annoying thing is that it's pretty obvious by this point that we'll be going to Turkey, so Gris' escape attempt is doomed to failure, making this whole sequence a complete waste of time. 

Bitts gets knocked out, Gris refuses a motor for his raft because he knows it'll be sabotaged, Madison climbs aboard, and Gris does an action jump into the bobbing dingy.  Next stop, Greece?

Back to Chapters Four and Five

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapters Four and Five - Learn a Neat Synonym for "Treachery"

Chapter Four is another attempt to create dramatic tension through environment and atmosphere that is sabotaged by the central character.  It's night and the crew is still completely ignoring Gris, plus the boat's moving into a dark and ominous rainstorm... and Gris starts the chapter "cowering in my room," so terrified of his proximity to Turkey that he screams when Teenie enters the chamber, as though the country were about to sneak up on him. 

She says he looks awful, Gris admits that he's worried about Turkey, so Teenie reassures him.

She shook her head.  "In a few hours, that will all be over.  There's no reason for you to be upset.  Everything is being handled.  You should learn to trust people, Inky.  And most of all, trust me.  I may very well be the only friend you've got.

Or paraphrased, "be very suspicious of me.  Notice how easily my attempts at reassurance can be read as sinister euphemisms."

I flinched.  According to the very best Apparatus textbooks, that is what you say just before you slide a Knife section knife between somebody's ribs.

What, all that?  Spend six sentences giving a short speech instead of taking advantage of the element of surprise to stick 'em?  Says all you need to know about the Apparatus, really.

Also, what kind of idiot assassin goes for the ribcage?  Everybody knows the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  Thanks, Terry Pratchett.

To help Gris calm down, Teenie has "THREE pieces!" of hashish candy.  And Gris combines his paranoia with some actual subtlety by dropping the treats down his sleeves while he feigns eating them.  Teenie praises him and leaves to spend the night on the bridge so she can "be sure everything gets handled," and Gris resolves to stay up all night.  Two hours later:

Far away, somewhere in the ship, I heard a faint staccato of bells.

A vibration ceased.


And the author comes up with a legitimate cliffhanger chapter ending!  ...That I kinda ruin by progressing right to the next chapter.  Tee hee.

Gris watches through his porthole as another ship comes up alongside the How to Waste a Third of Your Book, and among the crew Gris spots "THE BLACK-JOWLED MAN!" 

Now, Gris got some points by dodging the sleepy-time drugs and staying up to see what's going on, but if he'd been a good spy he'd be dressed in something rather than his bathrobe.  As it is, he sneaks out onto the deck in his jammies to eavesdrop.

He spots "TEENIE!" talking with Jowls over their boats' respective handrails, conveniently deciding to chat on the rain-swept deck during a nighttime storm rather than over the wireless so that Gris can hear both sides of the conversation and see who Teenie's talking to.  Teenie chews out Jowls for apparently being the one behind the harbor riot in Greece, and Jowls replied that it was payback for her delaying.

There, the mystery that consumed the previous two chapters and led Madison to consider stirring up a potentially world-ending war through the dark arts of PR is offhandedly resolved in a few blink-and-you'll-miss-them sentences, and will never be relevant again.

Jowls reminds Teenie that she was supposed to "deliver him into our hands!", Teenie replies that she's allied with Captain Bitts and refuses to put the boat into Turkish waters until she gets ten grand.  Threats and jewelry are exchanged, but the important thing is that Gris' worst sus... well, he hasn't really been suspecting Teenie of anything, has he?  The most he's done is notice Teenie acting funny, and occasionally thinking about how odd she's behaving.  Most of the time he notices Teenie acting funny and conspicuously fails to think anything of it.

Anyway, Jowls vows to return in a few hours and sails off, and Gris gets mad.

Oh, the perfidy of women!

I was sick to the core with her treachery.


There's only one thing to do - spend a hundred pages on another cruise while trying to come up with a course of action.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, June 24, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Three - Gris Solves the Mystery

This chapter almost effectively creates a foreboding mood that is unfortunately ruined by cowardice and stupidity of the book's main character.

The next morning the good ship Nothing Worthwhile Happens On This Ship is in the Aegean Sea.  The clouds are low, threatening rain, a nearby reef is being pounded by the surf, but other than that the sea seems strangely empty.  The crew has subtly changed behavior - no fitness instructor is trying to make Gris exercise, while a sailor on deck neither smiles nor speaks.  Captain Bitts is nowhere in sight, but Teenie's on the bridge.

Suspicious.  Unsettling.

And Gris, who owns the friggin' boat and presumably pays the crew's salary, retreats to his cabin rather than asking questions or taking charge.  Actually, first he looks around fearfully for any sign of the country of Turkey, then he flees.

I knew it would not be until night when we would come close to Turkey but still, it made me nervous just to feel that it was there to the east, waiting like some monster of the deep to devour me. Eerie. The feeling was almost palpable. In imagination I could hear the snap of its teeth that would be followed by a grinding sound as it chewed me to bits.

And it's an open question where this is another serious attempt at producing dread or another effort to make Gris as stupid and cowardly as possible.

The rest of the chapter is dumb.  Gris ignores whatever's happening on his boat in favor of sitting down, trying to puzzle out which of his enemies was behind yesterday's "attack" at Thessaloniki.  Yes, Madison already said it was the American consul, but Gris decides Madison is wrong.  Could it be:

  • The nameless Apparatus assassin who only shows up in Turkey?
  • The Countess Krak?
  • Heller?
  • Torpedo Fiaccola?
  • Gunsalmo Silva?
  • Meeley?
  • Ske?
  • Bawtch?
  • The Countess Krak?
  • The ghost of the old man Gris killed during his flight from Turkey two books ago?
  • Pinchy and Candy?
  • The Istanbul banker Mr. Zengin?

I didn't make any of those up.  Yes, Gris suspects Krak twice.  Gris is able to remove five people from that list on the logic that they're either dead or presumed executed, but yes, he still includes the ghost of another victim as a suspect.  Yes, this pretty much evaporates any serious mood the author was trying to create for the chapter.  

Give yourself five bonus points if you're able to identify the three Voltarians who haven't appeared since sodding Book One without using the character sheet I haven't updated in two books.

Gris eventually decides the culprit was Nurse Bildirjin's father, who used his medical connections to whip up those protests and is surely in cahoots with all the Turkish women Gris has wronged (i.e. impregnated outside of wedlock and/or raped).  Why, those "protesters" were probably Turkish women in disguise!

In a sudden surge of enlightenment, I thought I knew what this was all about.


That is to say, Turkey.  Their home, not Gris'.  Gris is some sort of outer space man, not a Turk or Turkish citizen.

So the chapter ends with Gris resolving to never, ever go to Turkey.  Excuse me, he prays that he won't go to Turkey.  He's so helpless - on this ship that he owns, with a crew he pays - that he's begging for divine intervention to keep him away from Turkey.  He moans about how terrible it would be if he was ever forced back to Turkey, calling it "the most painful method of suicide ever devised!"

All this, of course, makes it inevitable that Gris will be going back to Turkey.  I mean, you don't spend pages hyping how hard it would be to get into Mordor, how the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume and all that, and then not go there.  You don't establish the Death Star as a threat and then run away from it at the end of the movie.  Turkey is the inevitable destination at this point in the, for lack of a better word, story.

I will say this - while the author has botched his attempt to create a serious tone for this chapter, the reader is almost certain to share Gris' dismay at the prospect of returning to Turkey.

Back to Chapter Two 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter Two - Madison Tries to Destroy the World, Again

The plot doesn't even make an appearance in this chapter, instead the author somehow manages to get his own characters wrong.

Gris wakes up the next day when the yacht's wireless officer knocks on the door with confidential messages for Teenie.  When the man learns Teenie isn't around, he leaves.  Gris, a suspicious espionage expert, neither makes an attempt to get his hands on these unexplained missives or even thinks twice about how odd it is that a teenager who can barely read is having private correspondence with someone while touring Europe.

The day after that, Gris notices a bunch of "DEMONSTRATORS!" mobbing the dock, waving "TURKS GO HOME!" or "TOOLS OF YANKEE IMPERIALISM" signs.  Madison and Teenie have to brave a gauntlet of thrown stones when they return from exploring Mount Olympus, and are only able to reach the yacht after the crew uses fire hoses to provide covering... fire?  Water?

Madison knows what's up - someone's running a "black PR campaign," probably the U.S. consul.  He managed to grab one of those signs and there's even a "Printed in the USA" label on the back.

And Gris, who constantly chortles about how the ruling regime's supposed to put the boot to those "riffraff" in the lower classes, and who knows firsthand that the US government is actively trying to inconvenience, if not destroy, its own citizens, is shocked.

"A government shouldn't attack its own citizens," I said.  "That's psychotic!"

"Of course it's psychotic," said Madison, "but whoever said the American government was sane?  You mark my words, the American consul this very minute is handing out press releases to the Greek papers saying we're Turkish saboteurs.  I'm the pro, Smith.  You aren't."

So the author derails a character to cram in another paragraph of anti-government "satire," presumably because Greece was one of the countries that closed its ports to Hubbard during the Sea Org days.  And then I guess he engages in some revenge fantasy, because Madison starts talking about starting his own "black PR campaign" that culminates in the assassination of the Greek Premier and war between Turkey and Greece.

Gris objects again.

"Hold it!" I wailed.  "You'll have Russia and the U.S. involved in atomic war next."

"What's wrong with that?" said Madison.

"We'd be in the middle of it!" I screamed.

"Oh, I can tell you aren't a pro, Smith.  I'm the one that got the bruises here.  They want trouble, I can deliver.  Count on me, Smith.  Now, Captain. . ."

Yikes, he was dangerous!

More character derailment.  Remember, Madison was introduced as a naive twerp who thought he was doing his clients a favor by getting them in trouble.  Bury only had to order Madison to help someone and they'd be ruined in no time.  He does not know he's destroying people's lives.

Teenie's able to talk Madison out of starting Armageddon (again - he wanted to kick off World War III to immortalize Heller back when a car race was central to the plot), and so the ship sets sail for Egypt, on the logic that because the Turks used to govern the place they're guaranteed friendly treatment.  Former vassals are usually happy to see their old overlords, right?

Gris is worried because their course will bring them marginally closer to Turkey and begs Teenie not to let him fall into Turkish hands.  The bad guy.  Is begging.  A teenage girl.  To save him.

She smiled an enigmatic smile.  She said, "Now get this loud and clear.  If it even looks like you're going to, Inky, I will handle it.  Trust me."

I fell back on my pillow.  I pretended to be mollified.  But, oh, how well I knew the chanciness of life.  I was going to have to be awfully alert if I was going to live through this.

Danger was in the wind!

At least Gris is back in-character for the end of chapter "DOOM is coming!" message.

Back to Chapter One 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Part Fifty-Eight, Chapter One - Mission Greece

A new Part, but nothing's changed.  Still on that damn boat.  Still tootling around Europe.  Still butchering history in an attempt at humor.  Still stalling before the inevitable return to Turkey and the resumption of all those wonderful subplots.

Well, there's one difference - Gris absolutely slathers on the foreshadowing right off the bat.

In a leisurely way, through deceptively calm seas, I was being sailed onward to my doom.

Fate is sometimes like a headsman who is in no hurry: He gets the victim on the platform, adjusts the condemned man's neck just so, artistically hones his axe and sends an assistant off for a mug of beer so he can enjoy the scenery and gloat before he delivers the sizzling swoosh that will sever forever the desirable connection between skull and torso.

Translation: something interesting will happen eventually, I swear.

Gris describes the voyage to Greece using phrases like "The white yacht drew a gentle wake but it was a fatal mark in my history" or "Four cruising days were consumed, days like drops of lifeblood running out unseen," and assures us that he's been checking on Krak and Heller daily.  We're told that they're very "active" in the mornings, but the only thing he considers worth reporting was the one time they mentioned that their yacht was gone.  Just imagine them jabbering on about their plans to revolutionize the world's fuel industry while Gris reads the paper, half-listening for the word "yacht" to pop up in their conversation.

This leads to a paragraph of Gris explaining how he needs the yacht to avoid the Turkish authorities or Nurse Bildirjin's angry father, which has nothing to do with why he took the yacht in the first place.  It's just a clumsy reminder of what would happen if Gris were to go to Turkey, another attempt to make this miserable boat trip exciting.

They tour Greece, or more specifically some archaeological sites at Pella, Alexander's father's capital.  Gris' tiny mind can't understand the floor decorations: "They were pebble mosaic, many-hued, heads of lions, scenes of the hunt and they WALKED ON THEM!"  He immediately surmises that Alexander decided he was a god after walking upon such floor mosaics as a baby, "An obvious case of spacio-psychological mispositioning of the medulla oblongata, leaving him with no option but to conquer the world."  Madison gives another spiel about how the legendary "outlaw" Alexander "was 99 percent a PR creation."  The ancient floors begin to buckle and crack under the combined weight of the cast's stupidity.

Madison disregards facts and insists that Alexander's mother murdered his father for the crime of getting married too many times, leading Gris to reflect that he's already been married twice and would probably be forced to marry that nurse if he ever returned to Turkey.  At this point even the thickest readers know for certain that Gris will be going back to Turkey. 

More viewscreens, with Heller's ass being kissed by Dean Twaddle.  "One hundred percent across the boards in a vast array of subjects."  Astonishing improvement from his high school grades.  Absolutely no suspicion that a dismal high schooler suddenly became a magna cum laude college student.  Passing mention of Miss Simmons who has given speeches praising Heller to the faculty... remember her?  Not really?  Well, she turned out not to matter, so don't worry about it.

The only hitch is that Heller is enrolled in ROTC and will therefore go onto active duty as a second lieutenant upon graduation, which is problematic because he's already sworn allegiance to an alien empire.  Gris' hopes are dashed because Heller's graduating with a degree in Nuclear Science, and conveniently the army will let nuclear engineers take up civilian jobs.  Cushy, high-paying jobs.

My heart sank.  There went my last chance.  Heller would be as busy as a hurricane getting out new fuel and wrecking Rockecenter and Lombar.  This was BAD!

Gloom deepened around me.

The reality of the mess I was in was reaching me.

Suddenly the thought hit me that Bury would be on my trail when Heller's villainous determination to save this planet reached his ears.  A better, cleaner fuel would be just wonderful for five billion Earth people

It was actually six billion in 2000. 

but would be death for Rockecenter and that's what counted.

Wow, the grim reality of Gris' situation has managed to penetrate the thick layer of idiocy that protects his brain for a confusing and complicated world.  Wonder how he plans to salvage the situation and

I couldn't stand any more.  I dragged myself to my bedchamber and lay down.

Remember that part in Empire Strikes Back when it looked like the Falcon had escaped from the Imperial fleet, and Darth Vader got all depressed and locked himself in his meditation sphere for a nap? 

Teenie wakes Gris up and mention how she wants to climb Mount Olympus to look for Alexander and the other Greek deities, and also get a look at Turkey.  Gris vomits.

We're still forty pages from Turkey.  The author is going to drag this out as long as humanly possible.

Back to Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Eight - Leave it to Hubbard to Make Italy Boring

More nothing.

Spartacus' trail leads to Naples, described as another "teeming forest of cargo booms," before going cold.  But Teenie hears about "somebody named Garibaldi who had helped wrest a lot of Italy from the age-long dominion of Austria and gotten shot for his pains."  There is no attempt to tie Garibaldi to the "outlaw" research Madison's undertaking, and he is in fact only mentioned one other time in this chapter.  Really, he's only brought up to justify a trip to Sicily - Garibaldi landed at Palermo at one point in his long and illustrious military career, don'cha know.

So they go to the Mafia's ancestral homeland, which merits a full sentence or two of description such as "one could imagine, from that rugged and sometimes barren terrain, how it could breed so many hit men."  Gris and Madison and Teenie go hiking, and the view from the hills convinces Teenie that the world is indeed round.  Then she wonders why everybody doesn't fall off the planet, Madison tries to explain how gravity works, Gris fails to offer any sort of alien insight regarding our primitive understanding of astrophysics, and Teenie decides Madison is lying.  The "re-establish Teenie's stupidity" objective is completed for the chapter.

They also talk briefly about mobsters, and how the Corleones are bad news.  They needed to be in Sicily to do this.

Gris spends half a page checking on his enemies' viewscreens.  Heller is taking his finals, while Bang-Bang and Krak are in a gun store, where the Countess would like something more potent than .375 magnum "shells."  Gris has a little panic attack, as if heavy-caliber ammunition would be required to bring him down, rather than an ill-tempered lesbian.  Or a banana peel.

After checking the local catacombs to view the remains of an American consul who knew Garibaldi (second and last mention of the guy), Teenie goes shopping and returns with a bunch of books she only realized were written in Italian after she'd purchased them.  Gris translates, finding that one covers the history of the Corleones.  Gris recognizes both the late "Holy Joe" [Corleone] and the late [Gunsalmo] Silva - that is to say, the husband of a character who was very significant for one book or so before disappearing from the story, and another character who was never very significant and never accomplished anything besides making Gris soil himself.  This irrelevant subplot is reminding us of other irrelevant subplots. 

Another book is about the next "outlaw" Teenie and Madison want to study, some Macedonian barbarian named Alexander.  Gris doesn't like the thought of getting that close to Turkey, and Teenie tries to reassure him that they'll be heading to Egypt to learn more about "Chinese" Gordon after that.  She also mentions that some "tough-looking Mafia type" was asking about Gris at the docks, but he has no reaction to this news.

More pot.  More music.  More sex.

Go on home!
To bed.
Go on home!
To bed.
To me.
Go on home!
To bed.
To me.
To oh, boy!
Push it home!
To me.
To oh, boy!
Push it home.

More attempts at drama: "Stupid (bleep) that I was, I thought she was giggling because she was high on pot!"  Yes, after chapter after chapter of aching boredom, surely something interesting will happen on the next page.

Back to Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Seven 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Seven - Mission Italy

Something very surprising happens in this chapter. It just has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

Spartacus was an outlaw, right?  Slave turned gladiator turned bandit, won a lot of victories up until the point he was crushed.  Gris insists that he "had come within an ace of putting down the whole empire," which is at best a repetition of Roman hyperbole and at worst another case of Hubbard doing less research than his characters.  All that to say, the good ship Sub-Sub-Subplot sails for Rome.

Teenie wants to interview Crassus, the general who defeated Spartacus.  Gris has to explain that Spartacus' rebellion took place over two thousand years ago.  The author smiles to himself and scratches "reestablish Teenie's stupidity" off the chapter checklist.

Hubbard spares a single sentence in this four and a half page chapter to describe Rome, or more specifically the dock of Civitavecchia, which is "a forest of cargo booms and funnels."  Gris spends the three day sojourn in Rome aboard the yacht, so we certainly don't get to take in any attractions or anything.  Come to think of it, for a section of the book devoted to journeying across the world, the foreign lands being explored are an afterthought at best.  The main focus continues to be whatever Teenie's up to with the Black-Jowled Man, Madison's tortured misinterpretation of history, and Gris getting high and having sex.

Speaking of the Black-Jowled Man, Teenie has another run-in with the guy which involves him getting on his knees and Teenie making admonishing gestures before the pair run off for two days.  Gris has no real reaction to this beyond finding the man's behavior "astonishing!"; he doesn't have any thoughts on the matter or try to investigate further.  He sees the stranger that's been stalking them run off with Teenie and simply goes back belowdecks.

Gris is an expertly-trained, highly-suspicious spy, by the way. 

When Teenie returns, she mentions deluxe hotels and impressive meals; "I thought all wops ate was spaghetti and-"... oh, not gonna censor that one, Charlee Nine?  Guess racial slurs don't upset your delicate bleeping sensibilities.

It goes without saying that Teenie has new outfits that I will stubbornly ignore, but she also has a new gadget: a portable, battery-operated record player that can scan discs using a laser.  Now it's still using huge vinyl records instead of proper CDs, but this is a rare case of something in Mission Earth bearing a resemblance to the technology of the year the series is set.  Assuming my estimate based on the age of an ancient Nazi general is somewhat accurate, anyway.

Gris has no reaction to this device, no "wow, these humans are more advanced than us" or "wow, these humans think something this primitive is cutting-edge."  Gris is an alien spy from an interstellar empire, by the way.  You can be forgiven for forgetting, since it doesn't seem to come up much in the story.

Good news, everyone!  Hubbard wrote another song for us.

I'm sneaking up on you.
I'm going to get you, you, you.
You're going to get yourself in my clutches!
Look at these claws, claws, claws!
Yay, yay, the trap is set set set!
So stick in your foot, foot, foot!
So stick in your neck, neck, neck!
Stick, stick, stick in, stick in, stick in
Your naked neck in, neck in, neck in!
So stick in all of you!  You!  You!  Woohoo!
Oh, I'm going to get you, you, you!
I'm sneaking, I'm sneaking, I'm sneaking
Up on yooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuu!

And then more drug-fueled statutory rape.  At least the marijuana makes the music tolerable.

And horror of horrors, the music did sound wonderful, even the shouted "WATCH OUT!"

Oh, Gods, if I only had!

And there's the end-of-chapter attempt at tension.  Checklist completed, Hubbard steps away from the typewriter to enjoy the glamorous lifestyle of a modern-day prophet forced to live in hiding due to pesky government investigations and indictments. 

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, June 17, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Six - Change of Plans

So the good ship Plot? What Plot? lands at Elba Island in calm Italian waters, causing Gris to comment "that was the first time I had seen anything Italian calm."  That is the only thing approaching satire in this chapter.

Gris and Teenie and Madison tour Napoleon's old residence, which Gris considers a palace what with all the summer resorts and Napoleon museums, so "the man must have been a complete psychotic to want to escape from all this."  He also compares the place favorably to Spiteos, reassuring the reader that the place does exist beyond their hazy memories of Book One.  Then he decides to chillax with some "expressos" at a sidewalk table.

Now, Gris has been doing a lot of hash lately, and he's even hallucinated from it.  All that crap about meeting Columbus and dancing camels and whatnot.  However, those have all happened shortly after taking the drug, and he's never hallucinated the day after taking some. 

"Hello, Inkswitch."

I knew I shouldn't have hit the hashish the night before.  The hallucinogenic effects were obviously recurrent.  I could have sworn that was Bury's voice.

"Mind if I sit down?"

It WAS Bury's voice.

I dared look to see if the hallucination was also visual.  There he was, three-piece lawyer suit, snap-brim hat, drawing up a chair.

He looked at me.  "How are things going?" he said.

"What are you doing here?" I said.  Maybe the hallucination would vanish.

Bury just dropped by to check on an arms cache so that old Hatchetheimer, that rascal ex-Nazi, has enough explosives to take out the Vatican.  How Bury got here is explained (he took a company hydrofoil), why the evil syndicate that controls the world needs to blow up the Vatican is not.  Not that they really need a reason, since they're one-dimensional Bad Guys.

It's not clear when Gris disabuses himself of the notion that he's hallucinating his boss.  He checks out the hydrofoil because he's never dreamed up a completely new vehicle before, but he never has a "so I'm not hallucinating!" reaction after seeing the thing.  He's figured it out by the end of the conversation, at least.

And what a conversation it is.  Bury asks how things are going, Gris assures him that everything's "fine, fine."  Bury inquires about that guy with the new fuel source, Gris says he's been "absolutely" handled, "Smashed, mangled, and dismembered.  Incapable of even lifting his little finger."  Madison is similarly doing well, "Wrecking people's reputations all over the place.  Splendid man."  Yes, everything's all fine, now, here, how are you?

Which means that Bury has no idea what's really going on.  Sure, Gris has done a godawful job of reporting in to his boss and conveying pertinent information in general, but it looks like Bury is content to let this strange Fed who wandered in one day handle the case that could potentially destroy the Rockecenter energy monopoly without any sort of oversight.  He certainly hasn't been reading the papers, or else he would've noticed the Whiz Kid getting kidnapped or Madison being presumed dead.  He hasn't even noticed that the real Rockecenter son, the key to him seizing control of the company, has gone missing!

Guess he's been really busy looking at that weapon stockpile.  For the past month or two.

Bury hydrofoils off, and Gris tries to figure out how the lawyer knew to find him here, deciding that it must've been due to that time Gris flashed his "Spi" badge in Marseilles.  After that he "just began to realize that I had told Bury an awful lie.  Far from ceasing to be a fuel threat, Heller was more a menace than ever!"  Nice for the author to remind us what happened two chapters ago.

So Gris convinces himself that Bury will never find out about Heller's progress.  Or wait, if he does find out somehow, Gris will just say that he and Madison have been cruising around doing research on anti-Heller tactics - not that they knew Heller was still alive and kicking, of course.  In the end, Gris resolves to... dammit...

Madison's "outlaw research" is now a real thing.  Gris' "plan" is now to help Madison make Heller an outlaw.  Just like Napoleon.  Or El Cid.

That night Teenie and Madison discuss what they've learned about Napoleon:

"Well, he wasn't a real outlaw," said Teenie learnedly, around a mouthful of Turkey.  "They didn't hang him."

"I can't really understand why he's a national hero to the French," said Madison.  "He wasn't French.  He was a Tuscan, an Italian.  But there's something to be said in his favor.  He sure was a great PR.

Yes, Napoleon wasn't much of an outlaw, but he sure was a great Public Relations.

Here he was, a foreigner, attacking the French from the inside while disguised as their general, killing millions of them, and they made him their emperor for it.  Now that puts him up into PR ranks pretty high.  What a genius to pull one off like that.  I'm sure glad we followed his up.  Gave me lots of data on what people will fall for."

And Gris, having decided his best course of action is to embrace the madness, offers to help the two out with their "outlaw list."

The good news is that this stupidity only lasts twenty-five, thirty pages or so.  The bad news is that after that we eventually end up back in Turkey.  The worse news is that in another hundred pages Gris will still be struggling to come up with a way to get rid of Heller.

Back to Chapter Five 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Five - Stupid American Tourists

Nothing, nothing at all.

Madison and Teenie have some problems in Corsica - whenever they ask where "this great outlaw, Napoleon" made his hideout, they keep getting unfriendly looks from the natives.  So Teenie hits the yacht's library, mentally exhausts herself by struggling through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but manages to discover that Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba.  And being banished is basically like being an outlaw, right?

I guess this is what happens when schools focus more on classic revenge novels than history.

Teenie is stupid.  I mean really stupid.  She's barely literate, she has to get "Inky" to tell her what letter comes after 'N,' and she's shocked that the two-dimensional navigational charts and the globe both represent the same planet.  So she has to get the Chief Steward to help her find the Isola d'Elba off the coast of Corsica, with the suggestion that they've stayed up late looking over maps before.  Madison is delighted that they've found Napoleon's "hideout," while Gris wonders what Teenie is up to.

But in looking back, I am amazed that, with all my training and experience, even then I did not begin to even guess what her enthusiasm was really centered upon right then.  Had I done so, I might very well escaped.

If you have to spend the end of each chapter in this part of the book desperately throwing in hooks to create some sort of dramatic tension, just rewrite the damn book. 

Ironically, something actually happens next chapter that isn't foreshadowed at all.  And it is catastrophically stupid. 

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Four - When an Unstoppable Force Meets a Movable Object

Gris wakes up to find the yacht's captain inspecting the boat "to make sure the French haven't stolen [sic] us blind."  As it is, the foreign devils have pinched four fire hose nozzles, which as we know are worth thousands on the Parisian black markets.  But then Gris makes the mistake of admitting that he not only drank some French wine, but engaged in sexual congress with the port director's female family members.  So he gets scrubbed down with antiseptic soap and his clothes are burned ("Nothing will kill French lice but fire.") and he gets injected with antibiotics because the French press their wine with their feet and sometimes they have athlete's foot and the captain doesn't want Gris to catch "athlete's foot of the stomach."

I sure hope these books aren't contagious.  I'd hate to catch whatever was afflicting the author when he wrote them.

Madison enjoyed the tour of the island prison that showed up in The Count of Monte Cristo, what with all the old skeletons and the tourists jailed for not being able to pay their hotel bills.  He did find out that there was never a Count of Monte Cristo, i.e. it took a voyage across the Atlantic to determine what a person with a functioning brainstem could learn at his or her local library.  But Madison is still pumped.

"Here is this internationally known outlaw, totally immortal, name on the tongue-tip of every school child and movie director,

Yeah, when those kids and movie directors aren't chattering about Jesse James or Al Capone, they're running around playing Count of Monte Cristo on the jungle gym.

who never existed at all!  Don't you see?  It's the PR triumph of the ages!  Total notoriety and not a single spark of fact to sully it anywhere.  It means you can create even the flesh and blood of fame without the slightest vestige of reality.

So... is Hubbard trying to argue that those big bad journalists made him up to sell papers?  Then who was book??

What a PR that Alexandre Dumas was!  God, they don't make them like that anymore."

What a Public Relations that guy was, indeed.

The locals kept reverently mentioning this "Napoleon" fellow, so Madison wants to go to Corsica to find out more.  The captain agrees to set a course for Ajaccio only when Gris promises to stay aboard.  Teenie and Madison go ashore while Gris does his exercises and, invigorated by a good lunch, decides he's strong enough to turn on Krak and Heller's viewscreens.

The two are arguing over Heller's final exams.  Krak thinks little of our primitive understanding of electronics and thinks Izzy should have someone hand in completed finals on Heller's behalf, while the ever-honorable Fleet officer couldn't accept a diploma unless he personally sat for his final exams.  Even if he's never actually attended any of his classes and is sending Bang-Bang to stand in for him in ROTC. 

The latter may actually be a problem, since Heller will need to do some parade drills to pass his ROTC course... and nobody will notice "Wister"'s complete change in appearance on the last day of class?  Heller's much too busy studying an entire textbook devoted to quadratic equations to learn them right now, so he tells Bang-Bang to teach Krak instead.  Whaaa?!  Surely a girl wouldn't know how to handle a weapon!  But then Krak spends a page perfectly duplicating Bang-Bang's movements, before adding her own lightning-fast crisp perfect gun-twirling performance.  Wooo, you go girl.  So Hubbard's not sexist.  This proves it.

Gris has a sad.

Oh, I didn't like the way things were going.  Miss Simmons was out of the running.

That happened what, two books ago?

The spores project was completed.

But you said it was harmless!

Heller was going to take his exams and get his diploma.

Even though his lack of diploma isn't holding him back in any way, and the notion that he needs it so that people take him seriously makes almost as little sense as tying the success of his new carburetor design to a car race.

The Countess Krak was training microwave engineers for some purpose I could not fathom.

She wants to beam electricity around without wires.  She discussed the plan back when she and Heller reunited on Earth.  You watched her talk about it.  It implies that she's working on new energy technology, which is something that you should be worrying about.

Without me right on the ground to trip them up, they might very well succeed!

I could feel the assassin's blade going into my back.  For that was my lot if they did.

Where the hell is Bloody Dagger, anyway?  Can the mysterious Apparatus enforcer not catch a lift out of Turkey?  Or just kill him and take over the counter-Mission Earth?

I looked at the two-way-response radio.  I wished fervently I could think of something to order Raht to do.  I couldn't, but I must.

My only choice right now was to stay good and lost, keep out of Turkey and the U.S. and hope that my training and brilliance would come up with something which would stop this juggernaut of disaster.  I couldn't dawdle forever.  I would be squashed.

It'll just feel like he's dawdling forever.

Little did I know that that

Authors?  Try to avoid doing this.

malign Earth God, Juggernaut, already had his foot far more than halfway down on the back of my neck right that minute.

Or this.  Good grief, what does that even mean? 

Now, you might be thinking, "hang on, I don't remember any god named Juggernaut."  Well, as it turns out, the English word juggernaut is derived from the Hindu deity Jagannath, an aspect of Vishnu, if I'm reading things correctly.  More specifically, it refers to some wheeled shrines worshipers would bring out for holy days, and one European observer saw people get crushed under the wheels and assumed they were voluntarily sacrificing themselves to the deity.  So juggernaut originally referred to a subject of blind devotion or self-sacrifice, but the meaning of the word gradually morphed to focus on the huge wheeled thing doing the crushing, which leaves us with the synonym for an unstoppable force we're more familiar with today.

You can learn things from Mission Earth.  Mainly by fact-checking the author.

Back to Chapter Three 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Three - Mission France

Clothes, pot, statutory rape, France.

Teenie returns to Gris' bedroom at three in the morning, having received a truckload of clothing I refuse to waste time describing from the Black-Jowled Man, who she claims is a Spanish Duke who just married the Sultan of Morocco's sister and repaid her with those gifts after Teenie taught his new wife how to perform oral sex properly.

Boy oh boy, what an amazing story.  Could any of it be true.  After all the lies Teenie has told already.  Guess we'll just have to keep reading to find out what fun.

Boredom aside, there's a point to all this (punishing Gris), but it's going to be awhile before the payoff, such as it is, arrives.

When Gris shakes off the hash and marijuana the next morning he learns that they're headed to Marseilles, because Madison wants to know how much of the Count of Monte Cristo is true and what was invented by some Napoleonic PR master.  Because a fictional character in a story loosely inspired by a case the author pieced together through police reports counts as an "outlaw."  I'm sure there's been dumber reasons to go to France, though I can't think of any right now.

They go to Marseilles and try to dock.  It's stupid.

Through an interpreter, for none of us spoke French, the port director told us that if we weren't terrorists, he had no right to let people from the yacht wander around the town or harbor.  There was a slim chance, though.  If we could prove we were heroin smugglers, the port was wide open to us.

Maybe this all would make sense and be very funny if it was still the 1980's.

So it doesn't look like they're going to be able to land, which means that they'll spend another night on the boat, which means that Teenie will probably want to cuddle in bed with Gris and listen to some new records she bought!  The thought is so terrifying that Gris is inspired to whip out his "Rockecenter Family Spi" badge, and because Rockecenter is the world's drug mogul, the port authorities prostrate themselves before His representative.  The directer even invites Gris over for dinner and to use his wife and daughter for his pleasure, and since refusing would be a deadly insult to French national honor...

All in all, Marseilles was a terrible experience.  I left sharing wholeheartedly the opinions of my steward about the French.

I.e. "I personally consider the French a bunch of pigs."

The wife was fat and the daughter had a harelip.

Things like that tend to color your attitude.

Maybe Gris could kill Mission Earth by writing a report about how thoroughly unpleasant everyone on Blito-P3 is, to try to convince the Voltarian government that the planet's not worth conquering.  Why do they even want it, anyway?  No technology, no resources (except drugs), and the ideal option is to have it as some sort of protectorate - oh, right.  The sacred Invasion Timetables drawn up thousands and thousands of years ago that the Voltarian civilization has decided to follow.  Guess you don't need to come up with a believable motive for an alien invasion if you make your extraterrestrials that mindless.

Turns out The Count of Monte Cristo is in the public domain.  It's regarded as a masterpiece revenge story, so we should probably all read it, and thank Hubbard that his crappy story was nice enough to suggest alternative books to spend our time with.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter Two - The Good Guys Pump Ravenous Bacteria Into the Atmosphere

More failure, as Gris continues to watch the plot progress and can think of no action to stop the heroes.

He wakes up from a snooze in the owner's salon to find something weird on the viewscreens, green smoke rings rising into the sky, followed by Krak and Heller in "sun helmets."  They look happy.

I shut my eyes tightly.

Krak's voice.  "Finished!"  She sounded jubilant.  I knew she meant me.  Nothing else would give her such joy.

"Absolutely finished!" said Heller.  He sounded so happy he could only be referring to my eyesight.

Gris' persecution complex aside, Krak, Heller, Bang-Bang, Izzy and J.P. Flagrant are all down in Florida celebrating the success of Beautiful Clear Blue Skies for Everyone, Inc.'s "spore" plant.  All the contractors and workers who helped build the place are in attendance, along with fifty alligator farm buyers for some reason, members of the press, and two hundred Seminoles to perform native dances.  Which is why Flagrant is in a feathered headdress and talking like a stereotype.  "Red brothers smoke plenty wampum.  Do peace dance.  Ugh."

The plant is pumping out fifty million "spores" every minute, propelled up a fifty-foot smokestack miles into the stratosphere.  Because I guess anyone who wants to can build a factory to spew biological agents into the sky.  So did Heller have to get a permit for this?  Did any inspectors come by and ask where he came up with these "spores" or how they're supposed to work?  Anyone ask to see the facilities that created these ravenous globs of organic matter?  Nobody's expressed concern over the long-term effects they'll have on the planet?

I can't help but think that this is something that'd be really easy to shut down.  You don't even need a "PR genius" like Madison, all Rockecenter would need to do is get the papers to publish some alarmist editorials or hire some scientist-like spokespeople to stir up public opinion against this lunatic spraying biological agents into the air from the swamps of Florida, which would end in a court order for the plant's closure.  Easy-peasy.  Alas, the family "spi" is bad about passing on information to his bosses.  And coworkers.  And henchmen.

Krak congratulates Heller, saying that they're one step closer to home.  "Now if we can just push along with these fuel things, we'll be through in no time."

I groaned.  If they wound up a success, they would certainly ruin Rockecenter.  And Lombar would comb the planet to find and kill me.

From this, I'm guessing the author is aware of how badly the story is dragging, and how long's it been since he last dealt with the main plot, so he felt the need to remind the reader what's going on and what's at stake.  And yet he doesn't feel the need to just cut out the crap slowing the story down and focusing on the thrice-damned premise of this misbeggoten series.

I looked at the two-way-response radio.  I could think of nothing to tell Raht.

"Stop them?"  Get him to act on his own initiative?  Manco Devil knows he's better at getting things done than you, let the boy win his spurs.

I turned the faces of the viewers to the wall.  I could not stand to witness a celebration.  It was too much like an Irish wake: the corpse being me.

But he doesn't turn them off for whatever reason.  Guess he secretly wants to hear the native dancers.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, June 10, 2013

Part Fifty-Seven, Chapter One - Mission Spain

So the good ship Golden Sunset passes through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, inching closer to Turkey even though Gris doesn't know that's where he'll end up yet.  Not that he actually has a plan at this point.  Just cruisin' around on his boat while the plot continues without him.

For the first time in too bloody long he turns on the viewers... okay, how are these not security risks?  The Apparatus doesn't like its agents using two-way freakin' radios because someone could intercept the messages, right?  But these portable televisions tuned to ocular/aural implants are safe?  Can't they use similar safeguards on the radios?

Anyway, for the first time in too bloody long he turns on the viewers... why has it taken Gris this long to do something so simple?  What has he been doing all day for the past two weeks?  He has hash and underage sex at night, and exercises some during the day.  But it takes him weeks to work up the energy or remember to press a button and spend a few minutes checking on the people he's supposed to be thwarting?

Anyway, for the first time in too bloody long he turns on the viewers.  Krak's with the Whiz Kid double, referred to in this chapter solely as "the double."  I have to look back literally a hundred pages to remember that his name is Gerry Wister because the book hates using it.  Krak's using a hypno-helmet on him again, but for "its designed purpose: speed training."  She's helping Gerry cram for his finals, so the double can graduate and start an exciting life designing new pig troughs and other pig-related engineering work alongside Twoey the Real Rockecenter Heir.  Yes, Gerry vows that he's done working with the media.

"But if Jettero ever needs me for public appearances or anything, all he has to do is say the word. I'm not forgetting how he rescued me from that crazy psychiatrist! One minute I was about to be turned into a vegetable and the next there I was in a van looking at Jettero.

Surely you mean Jerome Terrace Wister, right?  Jerome's a promising student at Empire University with deep ties in organized crime, while Jettero Heller is a space alien infiltrator working to help his masters capture Earth.

And Jesus, was I ashamed of myself for ever daring to think I could pose as him.  And I know darned well you didn't tell me to think that when I had the helmet on."

Whaaaat?  So he's aware that Krak's implanting thoughts and commands in his head?  He's okay with it?  He keeps coming back for more?

Krak leaves to get lunch with her class of microwave engineers, while Gerry swears his eternal gratitude to Krak and Heller for helping him turn his life around, and promises that if they need his help for anything, all they have to do is ask. 

Just as a reminder, Krak kidnapped Gerry, mind-controlled him and held him prisoner for a few days, forced him to confess in court to clear Heller's name, let him get carted off to the loony bin for a lobotomy, rushed in to rescue him from the sentence she had helped doom him with, and is now programming him to help muck out pigs with another one of her pawns.

And he's ever so grateful for it.

Even Gris is nauseous at the Heller buttkissing.  And that's about it.  Nausea but not that vital Inspiration!

I gritted my teeth.  The two-way-response radio was lying there.  Wasn't there some kind of an order I could give Raht?  Something that would make these people suffer for all the horrible things they had done to me?

I couldn't think of anything.

We're watching someone suffer from Villain's Block for dozens and dozens of pages.

That's enough of the plot, now for a trip to Spain!  Although it's hard to tell.  Gris mentions Valencia's "busy streets" before spending half a page talking about clothes shopping and the flamenco troupe that visited the yacht for the evening's entertainment.  A page later he's touring in the mountains with Madison, trying to find which old "magnificent castle-fortress" El Cid used as his "hideaway."  We're told that the view is "impressive!" and that's about it.  One paragraph summary of hiking and picnics, then back on the boat with the flamenco dancers and Teenie and hashish.

Why is the author bothering to visit these countries if he's not doing anything with them?  This chapter spends more time talking about Teenie's outfits than Spain.  Why are we here, Hubbard? 

Madison eventually gushes over breakfast about how El Cid was an "absolute PR masterpiece!"

"Oh, you'll really love this," he said.  "You're so amateur when it comes to PR that you just plain won't believe it.  But El Cid was the total creation of PR men.  In the eleventh century, too!  You see, when he went outlaw against the king of Castile, he was really trying to set up a kingdom for himself in Valencia, totally separate from Spain.  But his PR figured, hey, that's not so good for his immortality so they rewrote the whole script.  They tailored it up so he looked like a Spanish national hero and he's been one ever since!  Man, I wish I knew the name of his PR.  What an expert he must have been!"

Madison being stupid, thus implying that all "PR" are stupid as well?  Or does the author hope to blow the lid off the whole El Cid legend?  If we're supposed to take this seriously, why would he have a dope like Madison be the one to tell us?  Why is this here?  Why are we in Spain?  

Besides the opening look at what Krak's up to, there's one other significant event in this chapter.  While getting ice cream, Teenie is once again met by the Black-Jowled Man, who drives off with her in a taxi.

Unease stirred me.  But then I shrugged.

Of course.

I shouldn't have.  In my stupidity,

This phrase should preface just about all of Gris' self-narration, really.  "In my stupidity, I couldn't think of anything." 

I assumed that there was simply no understanding teen-agers.  Or middle-aged men who would fly all over the place just to get another crack at unripe tail.

Little did I know what Fate was building up for me.  Had I even guessed, I would have run until there was no more wind left in me.

Half a block?

Looking back on it, I am utterly amazed that I never even came close to fathoming what was really gong on!

C'mon, you just admitted how stupid you are, once you realize that it should come as no surprise that you keep missing things.

I was at RISK!

No, nothing happens next chapter.  Or the one after that.  Or the next.  Or the following.  Something important and appallingly stupid happens in Chapter Six, though.

Back to Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Seven

Friday, June 7, 2013

Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Seven - Fate Wears Jogging Shorts

Gris wakes up to find the Golden Sunset at sea again, and wastes no time in getting to the bottom of things.  Once he's shaved.  And had breakfast. 

Captain Bitts explains that at four o'clock in the morning, Gris came running in to order a new destination.  He doesn't outright say what that destination is, and Gris is to embarrassed to ask, so this gripping mystery continues for another three pages.  I can only assume that the author is giving readers a chance to feel clever by guessing the destination before Gris is told.  The captain does hint that "half the shipping lanes of the world converge straight ahead," and Gris can see some mountains off the starboard side of the yacht.

Gris finds Teenie and asks where they're going, but she's intent on riding her bicycle on the ship's bloody racetrack and refuses to talk with him.  So Gris tracks down the publicist on the yacht's bloody squash court.  Gris tells Madison that there are two places on the planet the yacht absolutely must not go to, the United States and Turkey.  Madison responds by talking about someone who was banished by his king, then "took on the whole country single-handed," and when he died his body was strapped onto his horse and the sight of it was enough to rout the foe.  Then Gris outright asks Madison where they're going.

If you're like me and played Age of Empires II, you should know the answer by now.

Madison is startled at Gris' memory lapse, and reminds the Apparatus agent that he barged into Madison's room at three in the morning, demanded to know who he was researching next, and based their destination on that.  Madison wanted to learn more about Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, or El Cid, because... advertising?  Gris' strikingly idiosyncratic knowledge of planet Earth requires Madison to explain that this means they're going to Spain.

"Spain is a big country," I said.  "WHAT PORT?"

"Oh, you want to know what PORT we're going to.  Well, why didn't you say so?  Although, for the life of me, I can't see how you forgot ordering it.

Did nobody on the boat notice that Gris was high?  Did nobody find it odd that the thoroughly unpleasant individual was giggling, taking an interest in other people, and running about at four in the morning?  Did the highly-professional world-wise captain not think to check for confirmation of their new heading the next morning rather than follow a drug-addled directive?

Teenie was all over the ship at an ungodly hour telling everyone you were absolutely disgusted with Casablanca and wouldn't spend another hour in the place.  Frightful row, leaving so quickly.  So we're sailing to investigate Charlton Heston---I mean El Cid."

Heston starred in a 1961 film based on El Cid.  So it's not a complete non-sequitur, it's an achingly dated movie reference.

Anyway, the destination is Valencia.  And Gris has no reaction.  After screaming the question of which port in Spain they're going to, it turns out it doesn't matter.  I mean, anywhere but Turkey and the US, right?  So he lets the sports director take him jogging.

The author is still struggling to make this exciting.

Had I only looked, I would have seen Fate jogging along beside me, and had I then really inspected the apparition, I would have seen that it had begun to bare its fangs.

This is an attempt to fool the reader into expecting that something interesting is about to happen. 

Back to Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Six

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Six - Mission Morocco

Twelve days out of Bermuda to cross the Atlantic, twelve days in which Gris checked on Krak and Heller exactly once and made absolutely no progress towards coming up with a plan for thwarting Krak's investigation of his activities.  Twelve days spent traveling to Morocco, so Madison can do... research?

Madison was up and at it promptly.  "I've got to study this king," he said.  "He sounds like a real first-grade outlaw.  His name is Hussan-Hussan.  When his father got independence from the French, they say Hussan-Hussan murdered him.

Presumably this is a lawyer-friendly version of Hassan II.  Interestingly enough, there is some speculation that his father, the previous sultan, died of something other than complications during surgery.  So Hubbard's not using the guy's real name, but still suggesting he murdered his dad.

He also murdered the man who had effected the real revolution and took the credit.

It doesn't sound like Morocco had a revolution per se - there were violent clashes against French and Europeans, but the country gained its independence following negotiation with the colonial governments.  Wikipedia also doesn't offer a potential "real father of the revolution" figure for Hussan x 2 to kill.

He is held in power by the United States and he banks all the mineral receipts of the country in Switzerland in his own name.

I don't know about Swiss banking, but the CIA did pretty much prop the guy up back in the day.  It was the Cold War, we did a lot of embarrassing stuff, but the Soviets were worse, really!

He keeps the majority of the population, who are Berbers, in total repression and perpetuates the minority rule by the Arabs with violence and force.

Wikipedia's not helpful here - on one page it mentions that the bulk of the Moroccan population are Berbers, but another page lumps the group together with Arabs to form 99% of the population.  Then you have to distinguish between Berbers and Arabized Berbers and mixed Arab-Berbers.  Though it sounds like Hussan x 2 didn't have a good human rights record, so some repression obviously was taking place.

He's worse many times over than South Africa in racial subjugation and yet he gets away with it all.

In 1972, while looking for a Scientology-friendly place to hole up in, Hubbard and the Sea Org made port in Morocco.  He ended up making friends in the Moroccan secret police for some cross-training, but was eventually forced to flee the country after getting too involved in Moroccan politics.  I can only assume if they'd been better hosts, he wouldn't be bashing the country here.

I've read all I can find in our library.  Now I've got to find if he is a true outlaw and, if he is, study his approaches.  So I'm going to be quite busy."

What's with this guy's obsession with "outlaws?"  For that matter, what's with the author's obsession with outlaws?

Teenie hits the shore and promptly disappears, while Gris is less than impressed with the country.

I wandered up and down the pier.  The town certainly didn't look very inviting.  Dust and Arabs with dust on them whining and begging through the dust.  They were trying to sell me anything from donkeys to their sisters.

And the worst part is that Gris can't find Charles Boyer or Humphrey Bogart anywhere.  I didn't make that up, he wonders why they'd visit a place like this in the book.  We can only hope he's being sarcastic.

Teenie eventually returns in a taxi to announce that she's flying down to Marrakech for the rest of the day.  Gris spots the Black-Jowled Man in he cab with her, wonders how he followed them, and eats some coos-coos.  No speculation beyond "How did he get here?", no worries that the man he thought was staking him out in Bermuda is still on his tail.  Just coos-coos.

Madison turns up and complains that Hussan MkII isn't a "real outlaw" in that he robs from the poor and keeps it all for himself rather than going all Robin Hood on his fellow wealthy elites.  Even though the king's PR is so bad that people spit on the floor after saying his name, Madison decides he isn't worth helping and goes to bed.  Gris sleeps a night free of all that awful sex stuff he couldn't get enough of two books ago.

Teenie returns the next afternoon with a new outfit that doesn't matter and boxes of crap from her friend the Black-Jowled Man.  Teenie explains that he owns the Moroccan airlines and is really fond of oral sex from underage American girls.  That evening she shows him more of the goodies she got, what Gris mistakes for candy and only learns, two helpings later, is actually hashish, concentrated marijuana.

"You (bleeptch)!" I started to climb out of bed.

The walls suddenly shot fifty feet away from me.  The ceiling went through the floor.  I was in 1492 discovering Columbus.

I started to giggle.

"Ah, that's better," said Teenie.  "Now just watch and I'll show you a waterfall.  Look at the muscles of my belly moving.  When I showed them this in a nightclub last night in Marrakech, it got them all so hot I had to go down on the whole orchestra."

Aaaand any amusement from the drug trip sequence is suddenly gone.

Gris hallucinates, giggles a lot, and ends up doing something stupid we'll learn about next chapter, which isn't much of an anti-drug message because Gris does stupid things all the time.  This is also yet another chapter that ends with Gris ranting about some coming tragedy and cruel Fate and all that garbage, in a desperate attempt to keep the reader interested and invoke some sort of tension as the story continues to wander away from the plot.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Five - Whale Wangs

Yes, whale wangs.

Days pass as the Golden Sunset sails from Bermuda into a quiet part of the Atlantic, a place where "even the whales had a chance," according to the captain.  Gris and Teenie catch sight of one such "monster," which gets Teenie to bugging Gris about how big a cetacean penis is in proportion to the rest of its body and the mechanics of whale reproduction.

It's going to be one of those chapters.

Gris tries to convince the girl that whales lay eggs, but that night she shows up in his bedroom with a ruler.  See, if she can measure his "relative proportions," she might be able to estimate those of a whale.  This ends in more marijuana and more "Oh, Inky, aaaaaahhh!" and Teenie never gets around to making those measurements, the silly girl.

The next morning Gris tracks down Madison to yell at him for not bedding Teenie, but the publicist replies that he's trying to "make a lady out of her" by striking up a platonic, healthy relationship involving bicycle races and dance instruction.  Gris remembers something Teenie said and accuses Madison of being a "mother lover," and the man calmly answers in the affirmative.

See, Sigmund Freud was only taken seriously after he married into an advertising firm, which means that all of advertising and public relations are intimately tied to Freud's teachings... wait, so shouldn't advertising reign supreme instead of psychology, since it's what allowed Freud to flourish?  Anyway, if Madison "went against his teachings, I could be thrown completely out of the field---excommunicated!"  On top of that, as the child of a rich family Madison was psychoanalyzed - "a caste mark, so to speak" - at age five after having nightmares.  The psychiatrist ordered him to start sleeping with his mother.  "All little boys love their mothers.  I am simply carrying out the accepted prescription."

Even after hearing this, Gris keeps screaming at Madison to start sleeping with Teenie so she won't want to sleep with Gris.

He looked at me.  The paddle fell out of his fingers.  His jaw dropped.  "Girls?  Sex with girls?  Oh, good heavens, Smith, that's obscene!"  He went pale green.  He staggered to the rail.

Man, if I vomited at every obscene thing this book threw at me, the barfing would never stop.

The sports director, when he came up to torture me, gave Madison a Dramamine and sent him below to his bunk.  "I can't understand it," he said.  "Flat calm sea, the ship stabilized like a billiard table and I have a seasick passenger throwing up his boots.  Shows you what a mental problem can do.  That fellow needs to be psychoanalyzed."

"He has been," I said bitterly, "that's the trouble."  And I settled down to hours on exercise machines to get rid of the pot.

Could this be another crack in Gris' devotion to psychology?  Might he start questioning the wisdom of those medical professionals if the results of their treatments are people like Madison?


And that's the chapter.  Whale penises and ephebophilia and incest and vomit.  Mission Earth, ladies and gentlemen.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Four - Meanwhile, Back at the Plot

Wait a minute.  These books feature a high school student pursuing an older, nonhuman love interest.  The girl's willing to throw her old life away to be with him, is the one pushing for sex in their relationship, and considers suicide if he shuns her advances.  It's not a perfect comparison to Twilight, of course - Teenie has too much personality (i.e. a personality) to be a stand-in for Miss Swan, and the only thing physically impressive about Gris is his augmented dongle.  But the parallels are eerie.

Anyway, back to the Voyage of Vengeance!  Gris is all sad now, because he's getting laid again and has to exercise twice as long to burn off the marijuana he needed to get through the aforementioned heterosexual intercourse (he's not gay).  He's so tired and depressed that he decides to turn on the viewscreens and see what his mortal enemies are doing to thwart his plans.

Heller's talking with Izzie in his office, discussing the designs for the Florida spore plant.  Izzy's worried that alligators are going to get into the spore tanks.

"These posts," said Heller.  "They're a laser screen.  They put an invisible curtain around the tanks.  Nothing can get into them.

Lasers emit light, not a solid barrier.  You might be able to keep critters out with high-powered lasers that fry them if they get too close, but that opens up a host of other problems, like where that energy comes from and where the heat goes and who disposes of the charred alligator corpses.  Plus if Earth had any lasers like that I'm sure we'd have used them on humans by now.

The belts here take the spores up this ramp where they are dried and then they go into this hamper.  At timed intervals they are blown up the stacks, reach the stratosphere

Approximately ten miles up.  So if these spores are light enough to be launched from ground level via a smokestack to the frickin' stratosphere, a ceiling fan ought to send them scattering off the ramp and all over the factory.

and get carried by the upper winds.  They clean up pollution, convert it to oxygen, and when they run out of food they perish."

Choking the ground below with their corpses, right?  Polluted corpses, I should say.  Unless these "spores" are alchemical wonders able to convert carbon dioxide and cow farts into nice clean air at the atomic level, what Heller means to say is that the "spores" will "eat" the bad stuff and fart out oxygen.  But then what happens to the pollution?  It doesn't just disappear, it stays in the "spore."  Does the "spore" keep eating pollution, growing bigger and bigger, swollen with industrial byproducts until it becomes heavier than air and splats to the ground?  How is this one miracle "spore" able to fart out oxygen after eating any of the array of nasty gases we pump into our atmosphere, anyway?

Izzy asks about the fort the workers will need to protect themselves from Indians.  Heller reassures Izzy that the alligator cavalry will take care of any unruly natives.  And we don't know if he's joking, because J. P. Flagrant is promoting "thoroughbred riding alligators."  King Charles of England bought one "because it was such a short distance to fall off."

Gris gets fed up - "There was no point in getting all confused trying to figure out when Heller was serious and when he was joking."  More importantly, the spores aren't a huge deal.  Yes, they go against Gris' creed of making life miserable, but they don't directly harm Rockecenter, and will even allow him to sell dirtier fuels and pollute more freely.  So he checks on the Countess.

Krak has just returned from an ominous pause discussion with Madison's mom, who Krak considers "too naive to live" for insisting that her son is some sort of sensitive child, one who just met a tragic death.  What a moron, grieving for her lost son like that.  Note that Krak is calling someone naive, but just last book believed everything she read in a newspaper and violently resisted attempts to be told otherwise.

Madison's mom did mention how her late son had received a call from a Mr. Smith on the day of his disappearance, but when Krak calls Swindle and Crouch about the guy, they say no such employee works there.  Then she and Bang-Bang drive to Madison's headquarters, which is deserted - so empty, in fact, that they obviously knew about Madison's disappearance before anyone else!  Yeah!  So Krak resolves to find this "Smith" guy.

Gris, once again, freaks out.

Oh Gods, was I glad I was at sea!

But wait.  I couldn't stay at sea forever.  Even though I had no place to go, I knew that sooner or later I would have to make a stand.

Why?  Why can't you keep cruising around indefinitely, hopping from port to port, phoning in your orders to your flunkies?  It's not too different from sitting around Candy and Pinch's apartment, and despite the money problems that ate up an insulting percentage of previous books, Gris doesn't seem concerned about the balance on his credit card right now.  So you may as well make the Golden Sunset your new headquarters, fella.  Maybe even redesign the local Apparatus branch into some sort of seaborne organization.  A Sea Org, if you will.

I glared at the two-way-response radio.  With it I could issue an order to Raht.

If I gave him a wrong order and he missed, she would kill him and then I really would be helpless.

Gris is a man who, if he was given some canned meals, a microwave, and a can-opener, would starve to death unless he found someone to cook for him.

So I had to be very careful if I told Raht to do anything.

So the question remained: What could I tell Raht to do that would GUARANTEE her end?  I must think of something.

Plant a bomb in their apartment, watch the screen until you can confirm that she's asleep at home, press the button.  An early morning fire that tragically takes out an entire building.  Rent a room across the street and have a sniper camp the building's main exit.  Infiltrate the cooking staff and poison her meal.  Plant a lead concerning Mr. Smith and lay a trap.  Pull a Bang-Bang and plant a car bomb.   Go for irony and manufacture a gas leak.  Unfortunate accident as Heller inspects the latest generation of riding alligators.

If nothing else, maybe you should call Mr. Bury and let him know that this woman's getting to be a problem?  Perhaps he'll do something that doesn't involve stupid publicists this time.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, June 3, 2013

Part Fifty-Six, Chapter Three - Mission Bermuda

Wait a minute, why didn't they take the chopper to an airport and simply book a flight to Turkey?  What about Gris' escape plan required them to be on a boat?  Doesn't that give his enemies more opportunities to catch up with him?

Bermuda is a pretty place.  It sits in a startlingly clear, azure sea, its bays so blue they hurt the eyes.  It beaches are pink.  The strangely architectured houses, of different pastel shades, are constructed to catch rainwater on their roofs and help make up for scarcity.

And that's our one paragraph describing  Bermuda.  The rest of the chapter is either spent back on the boat or focused on Teenie.

The Golden Sunset docks at St. George, and Gris disembarks to see about buying yachting clothes, because who would want to yacht around in ordinary vacation clothes?  Alas, Bermuda is an expensive place, and Gris buys no yachting clothes.  His attempt to expand his wardrobe thwarted, Gris ambles around and notices a gray-suited man with a blue-black, stubbly jaw who he thinks is taking an unhealthy interest in him.  Gris plays it cool and sits on a shady park bench, pretending not to notice the guy watching him.

And then Teenie shows up, aborting any burgeoning cloak and dagger intrigue.  The high school nympho doesn't notice Gris, fails to buy a bicycle from a native, then pops into the same bar as the suspicious guy.  They walk out together, talking about bicycles, then spend an hour in a hotel.  When they eventually emerge, they hit a dress shop, a record store and a bike shop for swag.  Why Teenie needs three bicycles is just one of those pointless questions.  Gris chalks the whole thing down to Mr. Black-Jowled Fellow liking "very young meat."  I assume that would make Candy and Pinchy middle-aged, abusive meat and the Countess Krak buxom, mind-raping meat.  

That's it for Bermuda, cut to dinner on the yacht.   Teenie blathers on about Bermuda's criminal background, then mentions an Italian fellow she met that day who talked about assassinos and was asking about a young, brown-haired man.  After hearing this Madison is eager to leave port, so they decide to set a course to Morocco, because there's a lot of marijuana there and the king is a crook.  I can't wait for someone to tell them about Afghanistan!

Gris goes to bed, exulting in how relaxing his cruise has been, sparing not a second thought for the guy he thought was tracking him, who Teenie's anecdotes suggest may be a mob assassin.  Yes, life is good, he's recovering his health, and best of all, no pesky women have been bugging him with sex and stuff!  "What a glorious world it would be if I never again touched a woman!"

He's not gay, though.

Hugging that splendid thought to me, I went below to my sleeping cabin.  I disrobed and climbed into bed.  I stretched out, luxuriously alone and undisturbed.

A door opened!

I had never noticed it before. 

Gris is a trained spy, by the way.

It must be the door to the adjacent suite!


Gris panics as Teenie starts stripping, explaining that she's determined to stay faithful to him - or more specifically, "this equipment of yours is too great to be neglected."  She's limiting herself to oral sex when interacting with the other men on the ship, which is all she did with Mr. Black-Jowled Fellow that afternoon, hence why she's still fired up.  Gris brings up Madison, but Teenie explains he's totally disinterested in her and views her as a kid sister rather than love interest.

"[...] But you get me for a snack in the morning, a piece in the afternoon and a full-scale banquet all night.  How's that?"

"NO!" I cried.

But she threatens to kill herself if he turns down her advances, which of course would lead to a murder charge against Gris, who as a repeated murderer up to his eyebrows in criminal activity certainly doesn't want to get on the wrong side of the law!  Teenie's nice enough to bring out the marijuana before raping Gris via blackmail, with the usual Hubbard wobbling furniture sexy discretion shot.

Just thinking out loud here - if Teenie were tragically lost at sea, would the crew be "professional' enough to pretend she never boarded?  The steward's supposedly familiar with royal intrigue.  Maybe it wouldn't be the first time the ship left port with fewer passengers than it docks with.

Back to Chapter Two