Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Intermission - The Search for Plot

There's some good things to say about Voyage of Vengeance, believe it or not, mainly that the book finally resolves some of Mission Earth's many, many subplots.  The "Whiz Kid defamation" thing ends due to a combination of hypnosis and Madison being shipped off to an alien planet.  The "Heller in college" subplot, which as been kind of going on in the background of the background since Book Two, comes to an uneventful end, somehow enabling Heller's miraculous alien technology to be taken seriously now that he has a degree.  Teenie, a pseudosubplot in herself, isn't so much resolved as punted ahead a few yards, but as long as she's out of the story even for a bit, I'll take it.  All of Gris' (Turkish) crimes and monetary troubles are inexpertly tied to his status as a Rockecenter "spi," creating the hope that they might all get resolved at once in the next book.

On that note, this is the first book in a while where Gris has directly taken action to stop Krak and Heller... for a given value of "direct."  He accompanied Capt. Stabb on the abduction mission that nabbed Krak, and then acted as a real-time mission control when Raht tried to whack Heller.  For someone who usually works through mercenaries or anonymous tip-offs to incompetent law enforcement, this is a pretty big deal. 

And... well, the whole arc on the Golden Sunset only took 123 pages.  That's 254 pages that didn't take place on a yacht or in Europe.  Hubbard probably could've spent a whole book exploring all of the Old World's horrors interspaced with Gris engaging in hash-fueled statutory rape, but he restrained himself to merely a third of this one.  So it could've been worse!  That's a positive, right?

There's also... um...

I think by now we have to admit that the "main" plot isn't Heller and Krak's efforts to save the world, the titular Mission Earth.  Sure, that plot has advanced in this book, but it's barely in the story and takes place largely off-screen - Heller got the "spore" plant going and came up with free energy and gasless cars, but we only got brief glimpses of it during Gris' voyage to Europe.

It's understandable why this stuff gets so little attention.  Hubbard is not a scientist, so the most he can tell us about Heller's incredible devices is that they're light-years more advanced than our feeble Earth technology, not how we can construct something similar to save our planet without the aid of alien conquistadors.  More importantly, because this story is told from Gris' viewpoint, the main plot should really be Gris' efforts to thwart Heller and Krak's efforts.  That's one of the things that sets Mission Earth apart from more conventional spy stories - instead of watching a secret agent unravel someone's world domination scheme, we get to see how the evil mastermind attempted to take over the world, all the planning and effort that goes into threatening civilization.  It's a refreshing new perspective on an old favorite.  Or at least it would be.

Problem is, Gris isn't an evil mastermind.  He spends a full third of the book utterly unable to think of an order to give his henchmen that might slow, much less stop, the good guys.  His schemes are half-assed if not entirely nonsensical - kidnap Teenie to prove that he hasn't disposed of her, ship Madison off to Voltar based on some notion that he's a valuable asset, etc.  As said before, he likes to operate through phone calls and memos while relaxing at his villa or apartment.  He's a moron inexplicably assigned to a critical position, who has to be motivated to do his job by death threats.  At best, Gris is someone in middle management who's long overdue to be fired for gross incompetence and negligence.

On top of that, "Gris vs Mission Earth" can't be the main plot either, since Gris spends a third of the book either ignoring it or suffering Evil Schemer's Block.  It takes the cumulative effects of book after book of his poor financial management to get him to address Mission Earth in the last chapters of this volume.  And even then, Gris keeps getting bogged down in girl problems, or shotgun weddings, or what have you.

Then what is the main plot?

To answer that question, we've got to look at what gets Gris to take action, move around, or play a part in the story beyond its narrator.  So, what got Gris to leave New York and sail across the planet?  Sure, there was a flurry of activity to keep Madison out of the heroes' clutches and cover up Gris' involvement in the "black PR" campaign, but even before that he was planning to escape the place... because his wives wanted to rehabilitate "homos" as part of his nightly sex performances, and he didn't want to get nekkid in front of other men.

And what got Gris to desperately kidnap Krak and stage a hit against Heller?  Yes, getting rid of them would effectively stop Mission Earth, but his true objective was to get back in Rockecenter's good graces so he could weasel out of his crippling credit problems... a debt accumulated by Gris blowing through thousands of dollars on what he thought were whores, and capped off by a mortgage his personal belly dancer forged his name on. 

In short, the plot of Mission Earth is centered on Soltan Gris' penis.

Yeah, he's officially supposed to be sabotaging an environmentally-friendly espionage mission, but as soon as he lands on Earth, Gris starts lounging around his villa and gets talked into purchasing a belly dancer.  Eventually business brings him to the United States, where he has some scary non-con BDSM sex with a pair of "lesbians," so he runs back to Turkey.  There he spends weeks in the back of a limo with random women, until he learns that he's an accessory to rape and flees back to New York.  Then he rapes those "lesbians" so bad that they turn straight again, and embark on a wonderful campaign of curing other homosexual females through dub-con hetero sex.  Over the course of this Gris falls in with an underage nymphomaniac who he doesn't quite hate enough to not sleep with, until threats of legal action regarding his bigamist marriage and indiscretions with a minor, combined with the possibility of being in the same room as gay guys, force him to flee yet again to Turkey.  And that's where a tryst with a nurse and all those sexual assaults catch up with him, leaving him deeply in debt and facing jail time, or worse.

Interspaced with all this are glimpses of Heller and Krak messing around with carburetors and mind-control helmets, the occasional failed assassination mission, or a Part or two spent delving into the dirty laundry of the most powerful man on the planet.  But they're basically distractions from Gris' efforts to get laid.

And even this wouldn't necessarily be bad in itself - a saucy spy thriller that plays up James Bond's playboy antics at the expense of his mission could certainly be an entertaining read, maybe even satirize the source material.  But Mission Earth is not that hypothetical book.  Soltan Gris isn't a charismatic playboy, he's a rapist and murderer, and a grossly incompetent spy on top of that.  The story's espionage elements boil down to Gris watching things happen on his viewscreen, and the high-tech spy gadgets used are borderline magical in function - inducing fear, making a person mindlessly chase a piece of fabric - yet ultimately all do the same thing, allow the good guys to slip away from pursuers.  The sex, meanwhile, falls short of actual erotica while remaining uncomfortably detailed, and certainly fails to be arousing.  Or so I hope, at least; if Soltan Gris gets your motor running, you may want to talk to one of those nefarious psychologists.

So that's what Voyage of Vengeance was, a story about an unpleasant person committing sex crimes against a badly-done backdrop of espionage with sci-fi elements.  That all but abandoned the espionage angle for a third of the book. 

I dearly want to believe that this is Mission Earth's low point, that it's got to get better from here.  After all, Teenie's on another planet, and Gris has zipped up and is doing his damned job for once.  But there's three books to go, and if this series has taught me anything, it's that there's always a horrifying revelation waiting for you if you start to get your hopes up.

Back to Part Sixty-One, Chapter Eight

Friday, July 19, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapter Eight - Don't Stop Believing

So Heller's, ahem, dead.  And Gris is feeling weird, more numb and dazed than jubilant.

A fantasy that his ghost might come and haunt me passed through my mind.

I shook it off.  Psychologists and psychiatrists were all agreed men had no souls.  They were just animals, just a bunch of cells.  There was no life after death.  Thank Heavens for that!  It sort of steadied me.

Ahhh, see?  The "thank Heavens there's no life after death" bit lets us know the author wants us to appreciate just how inconsistent Gris is being here, so I don't need to point out how he thought that Greek guy he killed for his clothes was haunting him for revenge, or that a Manco Devil was after him.  It's intentional bad writing, see? 

So Gris gets up and starts spreading the news in hope that it'll make him feel better.  He tells Captain Stabb and the pirates, and all those mangy criminals cheer because that no-good Royal officer they haven't seen since the flight to Earth so many months ago is dead.

And then Raht radios in.  He says he's been shot in the leg and can't walk, but he somehow still managed to poke around the roadhouse for Code Break material and found all those synthesized diamonds.

Nothing about Heller at all.  Gris doesn't ask.

Gris promises to take the luxury tug to pick up Raht in a few hours, come nightfall.  Well, pick up those diamonds, burn all the evidence, and kill Raht to save his assassination fee, to be more accurate.  So Gris gets ready for departure.  The assassin pilots - remember them? - show up to threaten to kill him if the tug looks like it's leaving the planet.  Faht Bey shows up to yell at Gris.  Musef and Torgut show up and grab each other to dance around in a circle upon hearing that the guy who beat them up way the hell back in Book Two is dead.  Utanc shows up to kiss Gris.  She doesn't celebrate Heller's death because Gris doesn't tell her and she doesn't know who he is, but if she did she'd surely be up for a quickie.

And then Gris realizes he now has a superfluous hostage.  Heller is dead, after all, there were explosions and his viewscreen went off and everything, so he doesn't need Krak anymore.  Her screen is blank too... well, she must be sleeping, obviously.  Since Gris' feet still hurt, he has Ahmed take a poison-gas grenade and throw it up into a hole to kill a noisy badger keeping Gris up at night, yeah.  He watches as Ahmed drops the grenade down the ventilation shaft to Krak's cell, releasing a cloud of white vapor.  Gris goes back inside, checks Krak's screen, and it's... still blank.  Which means that she's no longer sleeping, and has been killed by poison gas, naturally.

I waited for a thrill of exultation.

It didn't come.

I said aloud, loudly, "COUNTESS KRAK, YOU'RE DEAD!"

I threw the viewer across the room.  It broke.  I was finished with it at last.  I looked at the shards of glass that now spattered the floor.  I went over and stamped on the speaker.

It hurt my foot.

Rage shook me.  Even in death she was able to injure me!

This is actually depressing.

I stamped harder.

It hurt more.

I jumped on it with both feet!

I found that I had begun to scream.

That wouldn't do.  I was the winner, wasn't I?

What do you think, viewers at home?

To take his mind off the pain, Gris once again recaps all the building demolitions he needs to do after picking up those diamonds, and how it will enable him to weasel out of his latest batch of financial problems.

I would then go home to glory and reign supreme as the Chief of the Apparatus.

Feeling steadier, I went down to the hangar magazine to collect weapons and explosives.  I planned that my last days on Earth would end with a big BANG!

Unlike this book.

Is this the
end of Earth?
Volume 8

Yeah, this is our "denouement" or whatever.  After an endless stretch spent puttering around on a boat, we eventually get back to Turkey and in the last hundred pages Gris finally takes action.  Krak is captured in a single chapter, Heller is "killed" in a page-long gunfight, Krak is "killed" just as quickly, and Gris does a self-destructive victory tantrum before preparing for the next mission.  It's not just quick, it's totally unconvincing, and not just for metafictional "the author wouldn't kill the main characters" reasons.  All the evidence of Krak and Heller's deaths is pretty damn circumstantial, and it's only by very deliberately not asking questions like "can you confirm he's dead, Raht?", or not performing simple actions like lifting the curtain on Krak's window to check on her corpse, that Gris is able to maintain the delusion that he's somehow won.

Now Mission Earth was of course excreted as a single document before being artificially chopped up into books.  But I wish the editor had picked a less abrupt ending point for this entry, because the whole "climax" feels rushed and then the story seems to suddenly cut off

Back to Chapters Six and Seven 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapters Six and Seven - Anticlimax

So Chrysler gets renamed Chryster, but Porsche remains Porsche.  The obvious conclusion is that we're supposed to be impressed that Heller's driving around in expensive, sporty European cars, and the author doesn't want to risk any confusion by renaming the brand "Portico" or something.  That might imply a sub-par vehicle, and heavens forbid - oh, right, the assassination mission.

Gris watches through Heller's eyes as he lands at JFK Airport and sleepwalks through customs.  He tells his chaffeur to catch a cab home, as Heller's not going back to the apartment because the surroundings are "too familiar."  Instead he's going to go off and be alone for awhile.  Guess he's sad or something.  Most authors spoil their lazy readers by outright telling them the main character's emotions, but Hubbard knows it's more rewarding for them to have to figure things out themselves.

Heller takes the Porsche - and the cat, for some reason - along with him to that roadhouse in Connecticut.

"Well, cat," he said, "I guess we've got to get used to her being gone."  There was a catch in his voice.  My screen went misty.

Oh, this was ideal.  Heller wouldn't be alert at all!  He was even driving kind of slow and wooden.

I had to take a break after reading that.

I had planned much better than I thought.  I had depressed him beyond belief.  He would be a sitting duck!

Yes, with the power of Sadness, Gris is sure to prevail!  When Raht reports in after his plane lands, Gris gives him some "very explicit directions" about renting a car and how to get to the roadhouse.  The fool-proof battle plan he comes up with, the sort that's only possible if you have a mission control watching things happen through the target's eyes, is for Raht to shoot the blind old landlady, hide in the bushes, call out to Heller, and then shoot him when he answers the door.

But Raht's still reluctant to kill an officer - and not just any officer, a Royal officer.  So to cover his ass, he gets out a recorder and has Gris very specifically explain who he is and who Raht's being ordered to kill, complete with date and time.  Raht also wants ten thousand dollars for the hit; Gris laughs, doubles the amounts, and mentally plans to kill his only competent henchman.  Raht hurries off to get a silenced rifle.

He clicked off.

I polished my hands one against the other.

Heller dead!

This I was going to ENJOY!

The hit itself fills Chapter Seven, all two pages of it.

Heller sits in his room for two hours, holding one of Krak's handkerchiefs.  Raht calls in, reporting that he "sure took care" of the blind old lady (without going into any details) and is now in position outside the roadhouse.  He's got a Winchester Magnum rifle capable of taking Heller's head clean off, with explosive bullets to make up for the fact that the thing's silenced.  Gris orders him to "Shoot to kill, first shot," then sits back to watch.

Raht calls out "Whitey engineer!" a few times in imitation of the deputies who reappeared in this book after vanishing from my memory.  Heller gets up and pulls a pistol, then checks the door.

He didn't see anything and stepped further out on the porch.


An explosive bullet crashed into the stone to his left.

Raht had missed!

From twenty-five yards away, having camped out the kill-zone from a stationary position.

Heller went down on one knee.  He was looking at a bush.

He raised the .45 and, without sighting, fired!

There was a yelp of pain!

Then a blast of fire from the bush.


Wait, wasn't Raht's gun supposed to be silenced?

The visio on my screen went dead!

There was a sound, metallic.  The pistol dropping to the stone.  Then the thud of a body falling.


My speaker was dead.

I sat there for an eerie moment.

No visio.

No sound.

Gradually it was borne in upon me that Heller had been hit in the temple, destroying the visio.  Then he had dropped his pistol and he himself had fallen.  And Raht, taking no chances, had fired again, hitting him in the head and destroying the audio bug.

"Borne upon me" here doesn't mean "Raht reported in and told me how it went down."  Gris is just assembling a scenario he dearly wants to be true out of the sounds and equipment failures he just experienced.

I sat very still.

I could not believe my luck.


Or unconscious, having been knocked out by the explosive rounds.  Or this was all staged and he's working with Raht.  There'd be an easy way to check, of course, just pick up the radio and tell Raht to report in.

Gris doesn't do that.  Why would he, he's already decided what happened.  Why risk contradicting the best-case scenario?

Back to Chapters Four and Five 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapters Four and Five - Pointless Piracy

Chapter Four is Gris' aching feet and another phone call with Raht.  Chapter Five is Gris arguing over jewelry.  This is the closest thing the book has to a climax.

Gris is still feeling the injuries sustained from walking around the beach without shoes following his escape from the Golden Sunset, and the wounds are starting to fester.  So he goes to Dr. Prahd, who is decidedly unhelpful since Gris still hasn't paid him, or paid the kaffarah to the raped women, or funded his disease eradication campaign, and on top of it all his dowry check to Nurse Bildirjin bounced.  He advises Gris to steal some crutches, because "Nobody around here would even lend you any."  So take that, Gris!  Not only are you left in physical pain, but you're unpopular!  

After Gris goes home, Raht reports in.  He hasn't killed Heller yet because he had to drive even further to find a rental boat, and the guy's in the middle of a mob of Italian navy personnel.  The "Royal officer" has been scuba diving down to the plane wreck and bringing up bodies.  Raht notes that there sure were a lot of little kids on that plane, and that Heller seemed to lose interest in his work after finding Krak's luggage in the debris.

In other words, there's a touching, emotional scene going on in this story, and we're only going to get a brief second-hand description of it.

Raht explains that Heller's headed back to New York, and if Gris is willing to coordinate things with the bugging equipment, that's where the hit will go down.  Gris cheers up, convinced that Heller has no chance to survive "with me directing the assassin every step of the way, right up to the final, fatal shot from a well-planned ambush."  I can't help but notice that the only time Gris successfully dealt with one of his foes (Krak) he ended up sitting back and watching professionals handle it.

But wait a moment - Raht only said he "thinks" Heller is heading back to New York.  Gris decides that there's a possibility Heller could be headed to Turkey, which means he has to hide any evidence linking him to Krak's plane before Heller arrives.  So he scuttles about, checking on Krak and trying to cover his tracks, inventing busywork for himself to add another three page chapter to this story.

His prisoner is reading the section on "Royal Proclamations" from the Voltar Confederacy Combined Compendium, and Gris reminds the reader that book after book after book ago he gave Krak some forged proclamations clearing her name in exchange for... well, now I've forgotten.  Was it to try to make Heller get on with the mission?  Or to get her to go to Earth?  Something like that.  Another subplot required to jolt the main plot into shuddering forward.

Then Gris checks on Captain Stabb and his space pirates, who are ready and raring to properly rob a bank.  Before Gris can stall, Stabb shows him his share of the loot - all that jewelry and whatnot grabbed from the plane's passengers - which they plan to take apart and melt down.  And I don't think they plan on taking the goods back to Voltar, where gold isn't anything special now that Science! can mass-produce it.  So I guess they're going to pawn all the gems and gold bars somewhere on Earth, for cash, which they'll use to buy... stuff?  Are they even allowed off the base?  Only that one guy can even pass for human, right?

Here's your problem, Hubbard - you obviously like gold, and similarly your bad guys have a gold-lust.  But to bring it into this story you used a sci-fi process that renders it worthless, which causes this whole piracy thing to break down.  Your space pirates just made a haul of alien currency and worthless yellow rocks.  Their best bet is to somehow exchange it for something they could sell back home, but the Apparatus probably will frown on competition in the drug trade, and there's not much else Earth has to offer.  Maybe blue jeans?

Anyway, Gris wants the pirates to get rid of their loot in case Heller comes by and sees a pile of jewelry and traveler's checks and realizes that Gris and the space pirates used the line-jumper to kidnap Krak out of the airliner and rob its passengers before dumping the plane in the ocean.  Stabb is confused since he thought Gris was going to kill Heller.  Gris explains that Heller might come to the base before he can kill the guy.  Stabb says that he'll just tell his pirates to be on guard.  I once again wonder why they couldn't do that for Krak.  At some point during all this Stabb forgets about robbing banks altogether, saving Gris the trouble of delaying their next action. 

Thus reassured, Gris gives up his share of the loot in exchange for Krak's purse, the most important piece of evidence of all.  I'm assuming he's going to leave it in his room for Heller to find next book.

Back in my room I went through it.


After all the trouble that had caused, I had it back!

It cheered me up for hours.

I regarded it as a portent, an omen of good fortune.  To me it looked like things were really on the mend.

The return of the thing that caused an enormous amount of problems for Gris is a good omen.  I'm bracing for a subplot where Gris uses it a few times before remembering his credit is maxed out or something.

Back to Chapter Three

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapter Three - Krak Does Some Light Reading

After Gris goes to bed, he remembers to have Raht bring Heller's activator-receiver and 831 Relayer along with Krak's.  Unfortunately by then Raht is on a transatlantic flight, but it's the thought that counts.  At least he remembered to ask for it within a chapter of sending for Krak's.

Gris passes the evening and following day by stressing out over the mission, so by the time Raht calls back the next evening, Gris is "a rag."  Raht's landed at an Italian naval base in Taranto and learned that Heller has volunteered to aid the plane crash recovery effort, but didn't arrive in time to catch the engineer.  Gris orders Raht to drive all night to a fishing village and rent a boat, then kill Heller with whatever he has available.

"What weapons do you have?"

"Well, you can't carry guns on a plane but I have a blastick."

"That will do just fine.  Get on it!"

Wonder if you can get away with taking a flashlight through airport security these days?  They'd at least check to see that it actually illuminates things rather than emitting a blast of alien energy to tear things apart at the molecular level, right?

Unlike last chapter, this one isn't spent entirely on the phone with Raht.  After giving his orders Gris idles through another day, doing nothing the author considers worth mentioning until evening, when Krak's activator-receiver is delivered, even though it came with the morning mail - a bit of oddness Gris decides not to think about.  Now Gris can monitor the woman he has imprisoned in a cell literally yards away from him!

For a moment, I didn't know what I was looking at.  It was simply a page of print.

Then I remembered that I had furnished Crobe a whole library in waterproof bookshelves to get him interested in psychology and psychiatry.  I had also given him forty other books, a set entitled Voltar Confederacy Combined Compendium Complete, including Space Codes, Penal Codes, Domestic Codes, Royal Proclamations, Royal Orders, Royal Procedures, Royal Precedence, Royal Successions Complete with Tables and Biographies, Court Customs, Court History, Royal Land Grants, Rights of Aristocracy, Planetary Districts of 110 Planets, Local Laws, Local Customs, Aristocratic Privileges and Various Other Matters.

The Countess Krak had found these books, obviously.

I can't help but wonder why the Apparatus saw fit to provide their secret drug production base with a detailed history of the aristocracy they hope to overthrow.

Gris is initially hopeful that Krak's reading up on the wonders of psychology, but instead she's checking the regulations for penalizing general service officers.  Gris nearly screams when he reads second-hand that he could be tried by his fellow officers, then does scream when Krak rests her finger on executable offense #34, Kidnapping.

I reeled away from the viewer.

Gods, that woman was dangerous.

She was sitting in there trying to find legal ways to bring about my death!

Gris doesn't grab a gun and end his problem right there, instead he bolts to the hangar and orders the captain of the guard to stay away from the special cell.  Yes, nobody is to so much as look in the unperson in the maximum-security prison who isn't in the official records.  She's got a disease that makes you go blind if you see her.  Yes, that's Gris' excuse.  Then he goes right to the source and tells Faht Bey to never communicate with the secret prisoner under any circumstances.  Also, Forrest Closure of Grabbe-Manhattan bank is not to be interviewed for reasons that will remain secret.

 Faht Bey is of course suspicious, what with these secret prisoners and Gris blowing up mosques and imprisoning a guy linked indirectly to the company that supplies them with amphetamines and all that rape.  Plus there's still someone on the base pinching drugs. 

And you know what's weird?  Faht Bey threatens to convene an officers' conference to look into Gris' increasingly fishy behavior, something I don't believe he's ever done before.  In the very same chapter that the Countess Krak read such a thing was possible in the official regulations, no less.  Almost as if the author was making this up as he went along and couldn't be arsed to go back and add some foreshadowing or allusions to this plot element in earlier chapters.

So Gris closes this chapter with another recap of his situation - he's got just three or four more days until Grabbe-Manhattan starts wondering what happened to Mr. Closure, and if Faht Bey finds out Gris tried to sell the base he'd do that conference thing and Gris' ass is toast.

My only possible hope was Heller's assassination.

And soon!

Only then could I make things come out all right.

Because remember, when Heller is dead Gris will be able to blow up the Empire State Building and annihilate a car company and wipe a Florida town off the map and have a talk with Mr. Bury and get re-hired by Rockecenter as his family "spi" and use those credentials to get Mr. Closure to stop asking about the Turkish real estate that Utanc tried to sell in Gris' name.  Because the Apparatus needs a constant supply of Earth drugs to maintain its hold over the Voltarian Confederacy rather than finding a way to produce its own and it can only get those drugs from companies linked to Rockecenter and his energy interests which is why Heller has to go for trying to cut back on pollution.  But if Gris kills Heller then the environment will be destroyed so those energy interests will be safe so drug production can continue and the bankers will back off so the base will remain secret.  Also psychologists.

I think this is what happens when you spend so much time doing nothing in your story.  All those unresolved subplots crash together in a nonsensical trainwreck.

Back to Chapter Two 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapter Two - I Think Hubbard Misses Scotland

I guess Gris never did pick up the activator-receiver for the bugging gear, because this chapter he remembers that he could use it to monitor the Countess Krak without compromising the integrity of her cell by removing that bit of cloth hanging over the window.  More specifically, this chapter is a series of phone calls.

First he calls Raht to tell him to ship the activator-receiver - specifically "the woman's" activator-receiver, he'll remember to send for Heller's later - via "International Spurt Express" since it's a potential Code Break.  He spends the rest of the day doing nothing of note beyond checking on Black Jowl in his cell and gloating how his order that nobody's to lift the cloth on Krak's cell window seems to be working.  Heller's viewer is still black, and Gris eagerly awaits the day he can watch Heller come home, read Krak's note, and learn that his beloved has seemingly perished in a plane crash.

I would order Raht to kill him.  Crushed like that, Heller would be an easy target.

With him dead, I could wipe out Chryster, Ochokeechokee and the Empire State Building.  Rockecenter would be jubilant.  Then I could release Black Jowl and tell him to get lost.  I would then kill the Countess Krak.

And remember, all of this has to happen in that exact order.  Gris can't put a bullet in Krak's head while she sleeps and use the promise of her as a hostage to lure Heller into a trap.  Gris can't blow up the Empire State Building while Heller's in it.  And the only way he can resolve the Black Jowl situation is by becoming the Rockecenter family "spi" again.

After supper, and with Heller's viewer still blank, Krak calls Raht again to complain about it.  Raht has shipped Krak's viewer thingy, and then he spends an hour flipping the 831 Relayer so if Heller's in New York, Gris will be able to get something.  But his screen remains blank.  Gris calls again, and Raht reports that he did have Heller bugged to track his location, but claims it must be broken since they indicated Heller was at Chicago, then the North Pole.

Hubbard likes great circle routes that go over the North Pole, even when there's no reason to go that far up to reach his destination.  For example, Heller turns out to be headed to the crash site in the Adriatic Sea after flying from Chicago, over the North Pole, over Scotland, down to Rome.  This may not have been the most efficient flight path.

Now, pretend you don't know that yet.  Gris sends Raht to go "hobnob" at Heller's office to find out where he went, and eventually the only competent Apparatus agent in the book reports that everyone's weepin' and wailin' after hearing the news:

"Flight 931 out of Rome for Istanbul crashed with everybody lost.  It's in the papers.

Well, you can't trust those, remember?

What did you do?"

"How would a plane crash possibly have anything to do with me?  I don't build these flimsy primitive deathtraps they use.  How would I know it would crash ?"

"Are you sure you didn't blow it up or something?"

"What nonsense!" I said.  "These jets fall out of the sky all over the place.  It practically rains planes."

Then Gris orders him to kill Heller, causing Raht to crap himself.  Yeah, Raht works for the Apparatus, a bunch of drug-running, murdering, law-breaking evildoers, but he doesn't want to go after a Royal officer!  You could get the death penalty for even threatening to kill one of those!  He only gets moving after Gris threatens to kill him.  Raht, your "only competent agent" status is now revoked.  Come to think of it, you didn't deserve it in the first place, you and Dead Guy got your asses kicked by a bunch of prostitutes several books ago.  Maybe you fit in with the Apparatus after all.  Apart from your squeamishness, anyway.

So that's when Raht checks his tracking bugs again to see where Heller's gone, and he soon learns from Heller's butler that he left to help salvage the plane wreckage as he searches for Krak's body.  Gris repeats his order for Raht to hunt down and kill Heller.  No specific plan or anything, just hurry up and do it, there's a good chap.

Only Heller's death stood between me and total victory.

Well, Heller's death and two building demolitions and the destruction of a whole town and a talk with your ex-boss and a coercive conversation with someone you took prisoner.  But other than all that, your victory is imminent.

I did not have much time.  Black Jowl might be missed.  At best I only had another five days.

After wasting approximately a third of the damn book with a weeks-long, meandering boat ride, suddenly we're thrown into a tense race against time.

I prayed that my prayers be heard.


Heller had to die!

A sentence that could've come from any of the past five books, thus giving the reader a good sense of how likely it is to happen this book.

Back to Chapter One

Friday, July 12, 2013

Part Sixty-One, Chapter One - The Danger of Windows

So last chapter we learned that the deadly Countess Krak can in fact be dispatched rather easily by a (paralysis) dagger in the back, which makes Gris look kinda stupid for going through all that bother with a hitman last book.  All he needed was a space pirate able to sit behind Krak on a bus or something.

Gris and the pirates return to their secret hollowed-out mountain base, the latter all excited that now that they've got a hostage they can finally start robbing banks.  Gris assures them that he he'll be scouting banks for gold shipments soon, but in the meanwhile orders the Antimancos to dump Krak in the dungeons.  Specifically Crobe's old cell, the one that if memory serves Gris designed himself.

This chapter is rather pathetic.

The cell is still appallingly filthy from Crobe, who just crapped all over the place.  Gris decides it needs to be cleaned for Krak, then decides she deserves to be surrounded in filth, then decides to put Krak inside before he activates the room's self-cleaning water sprayers, for bad karma points.

I looked through the small square port.  What a delight!  There she lay, tousled and defeated---my prisoner.  At last I had removed her as a menace!

Just a reminder, in Book Four when Krak was naked and sedated, Gris was still in mortal terror of her, feeling that he had barely escaped with his life after inspecting a nude, unconscious female.  So has he conquered his fears?  Keep reading.

The room goes through its automatic wash and dry cycle, even though Gris just wanted to douse Krak with water.  The cold water ends up waking Krak early from her paralysis stabbing, and though Gris activates the restraint clamps built into the bed, she manages to wriggle out of them.

She was standing, disheveled, in the middle of the floor.

She saw my face at the port.

Her mouth framed "You!"  She pointed.  Straight at me!

I reeled back.  No telling what that finger could do to my wits.

Far down the corridor, I looked back at the door.

Oh, she was dangerous!  Part of her theater training must have been as an escapist.  She had made nothing of those bonds.

Yeah, back to wetting himself because she pointed her finger at him. 

Now, that custom-made cell is super-locked.  It's got an inner and outer door, a lock that only Gris knows the combination to, and another lock that only Gris has a key for.  Still, somebody might look through the window at Krak, so Gris can't afford to take any chances.  That they'll look in there.  And see Krak.  And then something bad happens.

So Gris takes action!

I went back into the hangar and found a square of cloth and some tape.

I sneaked back up the passageway, staying very low so she would not see me.

All in one motion, I taped the cloth over the port.

Mission accomplished.

Gris briefly entertains the thought of Krak starving to death before remembering how many "space rations" he dropped in there for Crobe.  Eventually he concludes that he could drop some poison-gas capsules down the air shaft that leads outside the mountain, an air shaft that a dexterous circus performer could probably scale to escape, or a sure-footed combat engineer could use to rescue his girlfriend.

I felt easier.

When I had killed Heller and no longer needed her for a bargaining pawn, a capsule or two could be dropped down and that would be the final breath of the Countess Krak.

Hey, he skipped the part where his first attempt to kill Heller fails, thus necessitating Krak as a bargaining pawn in the first place.

Only then did I permit myself to feel I had done well.

The way was wide open now.

All I had to do was kill Heller.

All he has to do is the thing he hasn't been able to do for the past six books.

And all my problems would be solved.

I went to sleep congratulating myself on how clever I had been.

I dreamed I was at a banquet, attended by a thousand Lords.  It was a banquet of my inauguration as the Chief of the Apparatus, loyal servant of the redoutable Lombar Hisst, who now controlled all Voltar.

If nothing else this chapter proves that even when Gris wins, he remains a loser. 

Back to Part Sixty, Chapter Nine

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Part Sixty, Chapter Nine - Piracy at Fifty Thousand Feet

If I remember correctly, that line-jumper vehicle is covered in "absorbo-coat" material that will render it invisible to radar and similar methods of detection, yeah?  So why can Space Pirate Jeeb's camera feed reach it?  Are the line-jumper's sensors and receivers able to pick stuff up even when under the absorbo-coat?  Or does Jeeb's video feed and two-way radio work differently than our primitive Earth radio waves, and if so, why would the Apparatus consider a two-way radio a security risk?

I should just be grateful we've got a bona fide action scene this chapter.

The line-jumper takes off and heads west, Gris and its crew of pirates ready for action.  Captain Stabb eagerly wonders what treasure might be waiting in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner, and Gris has to keep his mind on their target.  On a viewscreen they watch Jeeb board Krak's flight, and thanks to some "LUCK!" he's able to take the seat right behind hers.

Gris and the captain decide to hit the airliner when it's over the Adriatic Sea, and so drop down from seventy thousand feet, matching speed with the jet and preparing to engage their tractor beams and whatever doodad lets them "blanket their radio."  When they give the signal ("NOW!"), Jeeb lunges forward to stab Krak with a "paralysis dagger!"  As opposed to short-ranged knock-out gas or something more subtle.  At the same time, the line-jumper engages its tractor beams and yanks the airliner up against its underside.

"BEDLAM!"  The pirate engineers "blast-cut" through the jet's fuselage, while Jeeb, after asking for permission, starts blazing away with a "glass blastick," vaporizing heroic crewmen and passengers in "electric fire!"  Then Stabb drops through the hole in the jet's hull...

The bedlam increased from the viewer and I could hear it coming up through the hole.

Stabb moved into sight in the viewer.  His huge arms were flailing a club, left and right, knocking passengers back.  A child got in his way and he hurled it screaming at the flight deck door.

Um.  Stabb brutalizes his way into the cockpit, and spends some moments up there while Jeeb continues to vaporize any passengers displaying poor pattern recogniztion.  Then... wow...

Stabb came out of the flight deck.  He was holding the club in one hand and the disintegrator gun in the other.

Another child, struggling up, got in his way.  He smashed its skull with one swing of the club.

Stabb came opposite Krak's seat.  A stewardess clawed at him and Stabb smashed her with another lethal swing.

He finds Krak's parcels and is rather disgusted to find that underneath the gold paper they're nothing but a pair of ties.

Several passengers were still moving.  Systematically, Stabb battered them to death.  Then he and Jeeb began to rip watches off wrists and wallets from pockets.  They emptied a bag full of baby clothes and threw their loot in.

I forgot the cost of this book's action scenes - they tend to involve terrible things happening to people who don't always deserve it.  I mean sure, these passengers were probably psychologists or homosexuals or government employees or drug users, but sheesh.

Also, as far as I can tell Jeeb and Captain Stabb just cleared and looted a passenger jet all on their own, either disintegrating or battering every single other person to death.  All for their wristwatches and pocket change.  Guess the rest of the space pirates were there for moral support?

Stabb and Jeeb haul Krak's unconscious fanny aboard the line-jumper, and they let the plane go.  Gris, who I distinctly remember being afraid of heights before, stares down through the line-jumper's open underside hatch, ten miles up, in hopes of seeing where the plane lands.  He's worried that it will crash on some nearby islands rather than in the ocean, because... no reason given.  But they spot it on the ship's "nonvisible light bands" and watch it nosedive into the ocean.  Cap'n Stabb sabotaged the controls, you see.

I sighed with relief.

I turned my attention to the floorboards.

In most cases "floorboards" refers to wooden planks that make up a floor, but according to Wiktionary an English usage describes the floor of a car.  Guess Hubbard really likes his English idioms, the silly bugger.

There lay the Countess Krak.  She would be out for another three hours, at least.

I did not want to touch her.  I began a gesture to Captain Stabb.  "Tie her hands and feet and tie them well."

The Countess Krak was deadly no more.  She was in my hands!

You just said you're still afraid to touch her.  Still, at least he's improved since the end of Book Four, when the Countess Krak was under anesthesia and he was still crapping himself in terror, desperate to get her away from him.

So if he had no intention of leaving the line-jumper, why did Gris need to load up with guns and a sneaking suit?

Back to Part Sixty, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Part Sixty, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight - The Easiest Way to Get a Hostage

Remember how confident and productive Gris was last chapter?  Chapter Six kicks off with Krak writing a note to Heller and starting to pack, and Gris immediately starts second-guessing himself and changing his plans.

Suddenly I got to worrying.  Supposing an assassin missed on [sic] Heller?

You mean like every single one that's tried to kill him so far?  Yeah, that'd be a shocker.

If the Countess was killed outright, I would have no bargaining power to use against him.

Which Gris has never worried about during his previous attempts to get rid of Krak or Heller.


Gris needs medication.  He's not thinking right, there's no logical process to his thoughts.  Instead he has sudden conclusions from nowhere that send his train of thought veering off in random directions.

Anyway, he rings up Captain Stabb and tells him to get that line-jumper craft ready - they're finally going to rob some banks!  But first, they're going to take a hostage, to save them the trouble of trying to find someone alive after yanking a building out of the ground with their tractor beams.  Because they need a hostage, even though they'll be operating out of an advanced alien vessel that's practically invisible to terrestrial instruments and has a wonderful secret fortress to fall back to.

One of Stabb's crew able to pass for an Earthman is sent to Rome to board Krak's scheduled flight from there to Turkey, and the operation will begin the next evening.  The rest of the mission's instructions are kept hidden from us, so the next few chapters will be super-exciting.


And here's our end of chapter closing line theme for the next dozen pages or so.

And Heller would never blame me if I missed on him.

But I wouldn't miss on him either.

Even though you're rewriting your master plan on the assumption that you will "miss on him" and therefore require Krak as a hostage.  You've already decided your first plot will fail and are hurriedly slapping together a back-up plan.

Which given Gris' track record is actually pretty smart, if therefore blatantly out-of-character.

They would both pay, and dearly, for all the trouble they had caused me!

And I toasted myself in sira as the new Chief of the Apparatus!

I had the heady sensation one has when he knows he is going to win for sure!

How would Gris know what imminent victory feels like?

And that's all two pages of Chapter Six.  Chapter Seven kicks off with a page of flight times and aircraft statistics that I'm not going to bother checking, because it wouldn't be surprising if Hubbard got the length of a Douglas DC-9 wrong and it wouldn't be impressive if he got it right.  I will, however, point out that the story is using the DC-9 rather than the DC-8 that Hubbard so infamously said was nearly identical to the spaceships used in the Xenu story.  My guess is that it's a different plane so that OT III readers won't get distracted from the plot, but who knows.

There's not much else to Chapter Seven.  Gris and Capt. Stabb talk about the mission a bit and make sure space pirate Jeeb has gotten into position at the airport.  And Jeeb has a two-way-response radio from the get-go, while super secret agent Gris got to spend a book or two hobbled by his inability to effectively communicate with his flunkies.  I'm not letting that go.

Gris watches the viewscreens intently to make sure Krak gets on the correct flight.  She does so.  Shortly afterwards her screen goes out because she's moved out of range of the activator-responder on the Empire State Building, so Gris will be in the dark until Jeeb's short-ranged camera comes into play during the Rome-Turkey flight.  I try to recall whether Raht passed Gris the switch for that activator-responder before losing interest.

I lay down in my bed and tried to sleep.  I couldn't.  All my dreams were coming true.

The Countess Krak was winging straight into my spider web.  And soon there would be one less foolish butterfly in the universe.

And all my problems would be solved.

Gris has forgotten that the reason he's trying to take Krak hostage in the first place is because he's already decided his assassination attempt on Heller will fail, thereby causing a pretty big problem.  But at least he's successfully compensating for his anticipated failure?

Chapter Eight is a bunch of nothin', Krak pottering around an airport until her flight takes off, while Gris watches through Space Pirate Jeeb's lapel-mounted camera.  Some young Italian boys confuse Krak for a movie star (or her daughter), because apparently during the 80's, vintage Hollywood icons like Lauren Bacall were really popular among Italian preteens. 

Hubbard's trying to satirize the world he lives in, but his mind is stuck forty years in the past.

Krak does some shopping, too, and picks up a green scarf that matches Dr. Prahd's eyes.  Gris immediately realizes it's a harmless gift.

She was looking at other scarves.  There she found a long cravat that was light tan.  It had a pattern of antique guns.  It was pre-tied.  "And I'll take this one for another friend, so wrap that as a present, too."

She meant it for me.  I shuddered.  Guns to shoot me and a noose to hang myself.  Oh, the implication was very plain.  It was a good thing I was acting!

Just in case by now, at the end of Book Seven, you hadn't figured out that Gris was a bit paranoid.

Gris watches Krak and Jeeb eat for a bit before suiting up.  He picks a jet-black heated ski suit that he thinks will "minimize me as a target in case there was shooting," which is sure to make him conspicuously inconspicuous.  He picks up some guns, and Hubbard shockingly doesn't spend half a page telling us what obscure old firearm Gris has shoved down his pants.  And this time Gris remembers the star-shaped pendant Lombar Hisst gave him to control the Antimanco pirates way, waaaay back in Book One, and which has yet to play a part in the story.

I picked up the radio and the receiver.

I went down into the underground hangar.

The line-jumper crew was all ready and eager to go.

I clambered up the ladder to the cabin.


She was literally booking a flight to walk right into your hands.  This is absolutely unnecessary and a complete waste of time.  You could've waited for her in Turkey and shot her in the face when she walked into the villa.  You could've sent Raht to break into Heller's apartment to steal Krak's note and forge one saying she went back to Voltar or something, or simply told him to rig the place to explode.  All of this is pointless and stupid but I'm going to put up with it because it's pointless and stupid relating to the actual plot of this miserable book.

Back to Chapters Four and Five 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Part Sixty, Chapters Four and Five - Mailbag

After ending last chapter with Gris reaffirming his need to wring an idea out of his brain as to how to stop Heller, this chapter opens with the Blixo "roaring out of the night" and Gris scrambling aboard.  Guess he's hoping it has a shipment of INSPIRATION! from Voltar or something.

He meets with Captain Bolz to swap news, correspondence, and orders.  Gris gets Crobe, Teenie and Madison set for transport back to Voltar.  Bolz has been too busy to get a feel for what's going on back home, but Twolah/Too-Too the catamite has big news for Gris - Lombar Hisst has succeeded in getting not just the Grand Council, but His Majesty Cling the Lofty himself, hooked on teh drugs.  Now that he controls the leadership's drug supply, he's practically running the Confederacy, and once he gets the rest of the population hooked he will rule the world!

Don't think too hard about how a tiny fraction of one planet's total drug production could keep the entire population of a second planet satisfied.  Or why Voltar can't make its own drugs after getting samples from Earth and abandon the planet to its fate.  Or why Lombar can't use his newfound authority to simply cancel Mission Earth and recall Heller to clean toilets somewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, Too-Too explains that Astrographer Roke has been dismissed and sent to faraway Calabar, so Heller's encrypted mission reports are no longer an issue.  He hands Gris a super-official message made from letters cut out of magazines and glued to a sheet of paper:

"KILL THE (blEepArd)!"

And so, near the end of Book Seven, Gris finally gets official (?) clearance to dispose of Heller, something he'd been trying to do since... well, a while now.

So long as nothing messes with the supply of heroin and opium and amphetamines coming out of the I. G. Barben pharmaceutical company (and only I. G. Barben, I guess), Gris' future looks bright.  He dismisses Too-Too's inquiries about a reward for such good news and goes to his secret room to scheme.  Someone must have injected a syringe full of piping hot INSPIRATION! into his brain, because once Chapter Five starts, Gris does more planning in one page than he has in the rest of the book combined.

First he'll kill Heller, then blow up Chryster Motors to solve the no-gas car problem, then blow up Ochokeechokee, FL to solve the Miami not buying fuel problem, then blow up the Empire State Building to take out Bang-Bang and Izzy.  After that he'll call Mr. Bury to get his "family spi" status restored, which he'll then use to bully Black Jowl into forgiving that debt.  Simple!

I sat back proudly to eye my masterpiece.

Then my eye caught a flick of movement on the viewer.  A knife was being drawn through a piece of meat.


I shuddered.

I looked back at the plan before me.  I sheltered it so it could not be visible from the monitor.  There was a flaw in my master plan.

The moment anyone draw a bead on Heller, he himself would be in the telescopic sight of a sniper rifle in the hands of the Countess Krak.

Plot's going in circles.  "Heller must be stopped, argh I have to do something about the Countess first, how can I kill her or drive them apart?"  Gris doesn't seem able to consider that it's possible to kill them both at the same time during, say, a building demolition.  I think he's decided that it all has to happen in a certain sequence, and until he can figure out a way past the first hurtle, he's justified in not making any progress elsewhere.  It's an old procrastinator's trick, I've used it often.

I thought about this for a time.  Yes, it was a definite flaw.

How many minutes did he have to spend mulling over whether "death by Krak" was a design flaw or not?

In order to successfully gun down Heller, it was vitally necessary to get rid of that witch.

I thought and thought.  I paced back and forth.  I had been unsuccessful in this before.  I must not be unsuccessful now.

And then he lets himself get distracted by more mail instead of solving his dilemma.  I have to admit, all this slacking is starting to hit uncomfortably close to home...

First letter's from the Widow Tayl, who is still looking forward to having Gris' baby and getting married.  Gris vows to have her "exterminated" once he gets promoted to Chief of the Apparatus for stopping Mission Earth.  Second letter reads "KILL OR BE KILLED IS THE LAW," signed Bloody Dagger.  According to the stamp it isn't two hours old.  Gris has long since given up trying to puzzle out the Apparatus assassin's identity, and resolves to look very busy these coming days.  And then "THERE IT WAS!", just slipped under the door, "HELLER'S CABLE!" asking for Box Number Five.  Incredible!  Amazing!  Gris saw Heller talk about sending a message on the viewscreen, AND THEN HE WENT AND SENT ONE!!1!11.

All that to say, Gris still has no idea what to do, and so he goes to bed without responding.  The chapter doesn't end, even though Chapter Four was only three pages long, and there's only three pages left in Chapter Five.

Gris wakes up, cleans his guns, and loads the viewscreens with fresh tapes so he'll be able to rewind in case he misses something because his civilization hasn't figured out digital storage.  He prays for luck, but Gris' prayer was absorbed by the darkness.  The Blixo leaves, presumably with Crobe and two terrible humans aboard.  Gris goes to sleep.

Gris wakes up.  Around afternoon, Krak and Heller wake up in New York.  "And then at breakfast I GOT MY KEY MESSAGE."  Which is to say he overhears Heller tell Krak that he and Izzy will be flying to Washington so the Wonderful Oil for Maysabongo company can try and take options on the United States' oil reserves (all of them), then fly to Detroit to test out those gasless cars.  So he'll be away for a few days.

So Gris finally, finally picks up that two-way radio with orders for Raht - he's to call Krak and give her the message "I cannot possibly send you the replacement for Box Number Five as I am afraid Jettero might hurt himself with them."  He does so.  And just as Gris predicted, Krak wonders to herself "Heavens, what have I done?" and paces a bit, before calling to schedule a flight to Rome, then Turkey.  See, Gris knew that Krak would hear his message, assume that he was still acting under her mental compulsion to avoid harming Heller, and then decide to go all the way back to Turkey to mind-control him again so that he would be willing to send Heller that box of equipment.

And y'know what?  I don't care.  I'm not going to question it.  Because with less than fifty pages left in the bloody book, the plot is finally moving.

Then she said, "Please make the ticket round trip."

I grinned with glee from ear to ear.  That was one round trip that wouldn't be used.

The Countess Krak was never going back!

Try not to think about how pleased Gris was when Krak first arrived on the planet as his implement to destroy/stall Heller once and for all.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, July 8, 2013

Part Sixty, Chapter Three - Why Earth Sucks and Toasted Marshmallows

As Gris' attention returns to Krak and Heller, so does Hubbard's brand of withering satire return to the book. 

After loading up on "hot dogs, marshmallows, buns and other things" ...already distracted by the food, sorry.  Some authors actually do things with alien diets.  They can be a source of humor - an Andalite from the Animorphs series had to be told to stop eating cigarette butts, while the Nibblonians of Futurama had little to say about Earth other than that it was "the homeworld of the pizza bagel."  Sometimes alien responses to human food can become plot points, such as when the Race of Turtledove's Worldwar series had their society turned upside-down after they discovered ginger acted as a powerful aphrodisiac for a species initially disgusted by humans' constant sex drive.

And Hubbard?  Hubbard has his aliens eat a lot of junk food.  Which I guess might be funny, except we were told long, long ago that these aliens are super-susceptible to Earth drugs, which makes us start to wonder how they could handle all that transfat and high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring and preservatives and whatnot.  If all the gangster and outlaw crap in this story is a throwback to Hubbard's childhood interests - a theory I'm basing on pure speculation, as I have no information about what he amused himself with back before he got involved with sex magick or founded his own cult - then maybe the 7-Up and hamburgers and chocolate sundaes are his way of vicariously indulging his sweet tooth.

Or maybe he was hungry while writing this.

There, a two paragraph tangent before I finished the second sentence of the chapter.

Krak and Heller take their snacks for a drive along a highway, admiring all the rhododendrons and maples and wildflowers and stuff, which Heller tries to use to convince his girlfriend that the planet is worth saving.  "Not at the cost of our marriage," says Krak, who evidently wants her boyfriend to abandon his mission and an entire planetary population so they can run back to Manco and get married right now.  She's still disgusted with how much we've managed to muck up our own homeworld.

"They're just a little deficient in technology, that's all," said Heller.

"A little crazy, you mean.  Those engineers in my microwave class at first didn't see anything wrong at all with letting somebody like Rockecenter suppress new developments so he could make money and stay in power.

We can only hope they were getting bought off or cowed by threats of force, rather than simply refusing to do anything that could undermine an elderly billionaire's energy monopoly due to their commitment to the status quo.

And psychology, why do they let their children be taught they have no souls and are just the victims of their emotions and can't control themselves?"

I think the ultimate message of psychology is that people can learn to control themselves and their emotions, with the help of the nice person loaning you their couch (and for a modest fee).  I doubt the mental health industry would make much money if every psychologist told patients that their problems are immutable and they're doomed to be the playthings of their medulla oblongata. 

Heller tries to explain that the people of Earth are conditioned to accept this state of affairs, or else beaten down by those mean people with guns who keep telling them to do things.

"Are we ever going to invade this planet? said the Countess.

"Oh, not for another hundred and eighty years if this mission succeeds.

Why 180 years instead of 100 or 500?  Purely because the sacred Invasion Timetables say so.

And by then they could be sailing very smoothly.  It wouldn't be much of an invasion: more like an alliance.

But they aren't called the Alliance Timetables, are they?

They'd simply join the Confederacy.

Whether we want to or not.

The danger is they could make the planet uninhabitable and the Grand Council would launch a shooting invasion now just to save the place.  I don't want that to happen to them."

Hate to invade us ahead of schedule, eh?

"Well, I don't think we ever ought to touch them," said the Countess Krak.  "Do you realize that a primitive culture like this can backfire on a higher level civilization?  It could corrupt Voltar."

Here we go...

"Oh, I think you're overstating it," said Heller.  "What could these people possibly do the Voltarian Confederacy?"

"Plenty," said the Countess Krak.  "Sexual perversion

Bullshit.  Earth has had nothing we haven't seen on Voltar, be it perversions such as rape or bestiality or "perversions" such as homosexuality or nymphomania. 

trying people in the press

Bullshit.  The trials took place in the courtrooms, thank you very much, the press was simply where the charges were discussed beforehand.  This is only dangerous if every Voltarian is like Krak and instantly believes what she reads on a sheet of paper, even if it doesn't jive with what she knows from first-hand experience.

rotten courts, crazy suits

Bullshit.  Gris has been killing his enemies by passing them counterfeit money so they'd get executed by the Voltarian courts for the crime of having counterfeit money.

power attained through economic dominance by a few

Bullshit.  Voltar is ruled by an emperor and has a government comprised of feudal lords.  Unless they were all given their titles purely on merit and happen to be dukes and countesses with middle-class incomes?

psychology, psychiatry

Bullshit.  I will concede Voltar doesn't have anything like the psychology described here, but then neither does Earth, while Voltar does have those infamous mind-control helmets, not to mention all that spy crap that forces people to get angry or afraid or chase after a patch of fabric.  So Earth psychology believes that people don't have souls and tries to convince them to act in certain ways, while on Voltar they use mind-control on people to force them to act in certain ways while believing they have souls.  Who's worse here?

drugs and more drugs.

Bullshit.  You've got some form of alcohol on Voltar, otherwise the Apparatus wouldn't be nicknamed the "drunks."  You also got jolt and aromatic poppers for stimulants and all manner of knock-out gas, so you clearly have the capability to chemically alter someone's mental state. 

They're dangerous, Jettero.  I believe we should leave them severely alone.  Quarantine the place."

Yes, otherwise we might go around invading other planets or demanding they join our "Federation" or whatever.  And what kind of monster would do that?

This is the book's bigg... this is one of the book's biggest problems: to satirize our society the author has these alien character critique Earth, even though nothing he's told us about Voltar makes it look like a more appealing place to live.  Maybe life on Voltar is swell if you're a movie star like Hightee Heller, but underneath the surface you still have the Apparatus abducting and murdering with near-impunity, not to mention separatists and pirates at the fringes of what is, I must remind you, a mindlessly expansive empire that conquers worlds for no reason other than their ancient ancestors said so.  If you're not Hightee Heller and happen to live in some of those slums Gris visited, life is probably worse than on Earth.

And Krak should know this.  She spent years working in an Apparatus dungeon.  So these piercing criticisms of Earth come across as hopelessly naive at best or blatantly hypocritical at worst.

Well, that's the first two pages of the chapter.  Oh, right, Krak says something to terrify Gris.

"Oh, dear," said Heller.  "You do seem out of sorts today."

"I'm worried.  I have an awful feeling something dreadful may happen to us.  A sort of cold feeling like we're always being watched by somebody who means us no good."

Always?  Try "an average of once every seven chapters or so, if he remembers."

I quickly averted my eyes from the viewer.  What she had said made my hair stand on end.  How had she guessed that that was exactly the case?  Was she a witch or something?  By the Gods, that woman would have to be gotten out of the way before much else could be done.

You established that two sodding books ago, thank you very much.

Heller also mentions that Izzy is working with "Chryster" to produce "gasless cars."  Now hold on a minute, buster.  How in the hell did you work out that sort of deal without winning a car race?  How are they supposed to know that your magic carburetors really work if you don't compete in some nationally-televised demolition derby endurance race?  We spent a couple hundred pages building up to and experiencing that, and now you're telling me that it wasn't necessary?

Eventually Heller takes Krak to that den of iniquity he wanted to show off - the old bootlegger's roadhouse.  There place is looked after by the blind lady with a bunch of chickens, as well as deputy sheriffs George and Ralph, and I have completely forgotten who these people are.  Heller shows off the trapdoor and mine-turned-booze storage area, and explains to Krak his original plan of using alien magic to create gold he could claim to have dug up.  He never got around to it because he started robbing the stock market with that time telescope, and also since he lacks the molding pans from Box Number Five to do that sort of scientific alchemy.  "Nothing on this planet is strong enough.  It would just melt under the bombardment."  What he does have is strong enough to make a sack full of ten-carat diamonds, though.  Were you thinking that Krak needed a bunch of diamonds?  Because now she has a bunch of diamonds.

So there's the plot development buried in all that talk about how Earth is terrible - Heller's going to contact Gris and try to get that missing shipment of scientific supplies.

Heller built a fire in the kitchen range and made some hot dogs.  They ate them.  Then he showed her how to toast marshmallows on pieces of wire with the front door of the firebox open.

He wound up a Victrola and put on some jazz records from the 1920s and they danced.

Later, Heller locked the place up.  They went back and picked up the Porsche.

And Gris watched all of it, I guess.  Every insipid second.  As they drive home and Heller repeats how he really needs Box Number Five, Gris reflects.

I smiled thinly to myself.  I was doing better than I thought.  I really was slowing him down!  But it didn't solve my own problems.  I would have to do more.  AND FAST!

Which is why you spent hours watching them eat hot dogs.

Back to Chapters One and Two

Friday, July 5, 2013

Part Sixty, Chapters One and Two - Gris Slips a Mickey and Heller Solves a Solved Mystery

If you've been paying attention for the past twenty pages, you can skip the first page of Chapter One.  All Gris does is recap his current situation for us, which is to say he's got about two weeks to stop the bank from seizing both the Apparatus base and its opium farms, all without the support of the Rockecenters.  But as his espionage instructors always said, "Take care of the details and the big problems will take care of themselves."

So Gris resolves to do something about Madison.  The publicist would like to go on a walk, but Gris instead treats him to some authentic Turkish wine laced with some authentic liquid chloral hydrate.  Madison gets carted into the base's dungeons awaiting shipment to Voltar, and Gris pens a note to Lombar Hisst assuring him that he'll be "utterly amazed" what this "extremely valuable man" can do.

I marked it URGENT and IMPORTANT and put it with outgoing despatches. [sic]

Little did I know that when I sealed that envelope, I also sealed my own doom.

Foolishly I thought, that is the last I'll see of J. Walter Madison.

The moral of this story is that if you want to see someone for assuredly the last time, dump their unconscious body in the base's garbage disintegrator instead of shipping him to your boss on another planet.

So that's one "detail" cleared up.  Surely now that Madison's gone those nasty forged mortgages will just resolve themselves.

In Chapter Two, Gris starts off by tricking his two bodyguards into thinking he'd killed all his guests and buried their bodies on the villa grounds rather than secreted them to an elaborate subterranean base in preparation for transit to another planet.  Then he does something unexpected, something he hasn't done for close to seventy pages - he turns on the viewscreens and checks on Krak and Heller.

Krak's waking her lover up with some coffee and a hangover cure of chilled tomato juice and Worchestershire and Tabasco sauces.  He stayed up late drinking scotch at his graduation party, y'see, but also promised to take her hiking bright and early in the morning.

"I must have been drunk," said Heller.

"Those girls were drunk enough," said the Countess.

"Oh, is that what this is all about," he said, drinking his coffee.

"No, that's not what this is all about.  I'm not jealous anymore except sometimes.

Not sure if intentionally humorous or just Hubbard's normal writing.

She calls Heller the "best-looking and most competent combat engineer" and is indignant that he's earned a Bachelor's degree because "Being a bachelor is what I'm trying to get you home to cure you of."   Krak's ready to finish the mission, and Heller assures him that now that he has his degree, he can write revolutionary scientific articles and be taken seriously.  In fact, he went ahead and wrote a bunch of papers on fuel between the late-night graduation party and going to bed that morning.

While drunk, right?  Now I very much would like to read Heller's revolutionary manuscript "Altanit Full Sauces: A Discuss in of My Grilfrien's Hot As."

And now for a touching moment, after Krak gets upset that she was telling her boyfriend to do something he'd secretly already done.

"Don't be cross," he said.

"You tricked me into getting cross with you.  You led me on."

"It was just a joke," said Heller.  "I'm sorry."

"Getting off this planet is NO joke," said the Countess Krak.  "It is psychotic.  It scares me half to death."

"It's also a pretty planet," said Heller.  "Now come along like a good girl.  I have something you will find fascinating."

So, Krak is mad, Heller orders her not to be mad, Krak counters that her being mad is a result of Heller's petty trickery, Heller finally apologizes, Krak mentions how dangerous the world they're operating on is, Heller dodges the question and basically tells her to shut up and come look at this interesting thing he found. 

I'm going to have to bite the bullet and read Twilight one of these days, so I can make an informed judgment whether Krak-Heller or Bella-Edward is the more dysfunctional couple.

This fascinating something requires a drive, so they get in the Porsche and head for an abandoned roadhouse in Connecticut, which I can only guess is that old speakeasy Heller bought a staggering number of pages ago.  Along the way Heller lifts Krak's spirits with The Devil's Triangle, and explains his theory that all of the statistically average mysterious disappearances in this absolutely enormous region are due to the warping influences of a captive black hole used in a pyramidal alien power plant built by Prince Caucalsia as part of his colony on a continent that subsequently sank.

The aliens who laugh at our primitive understanding of science are true believers of a "supernatural" mystery that's been refuted a year after The Devil's Triangle was published - it came out in 1974 (with a sequel the next year), while in '75 The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved pointed out how so many authors' claims regarding the triangle were exaggerated, if not actually occurring somewhere else entirely.  Guess Heller and/or Hubbard only read the one book and not the other.

Time for a sing-song!

If ever from life you need fly,
Or a king has said loved ones must die,
Take a ship
In a ship
That will bob, dive and dip,
And find a new home in the sky.

Bold Prince Caucalsia,
There you are on high,
We see you wink,
And we see you blink,
Far, far, far above the Mo-o-o-o-n!

I assume the rhythm and rhymes work better in the native Voltarian.

The song, of sorts, puts the couple in a good mood.

"Now I've got my girl cheerful again," said Heller

"I'm just an old nagging grouch," she said, putting her head on his shoulder.  "I don't know what a handsome guy like you is doing with such an awful scold as me."

Neither does the reader.  Given her alternatively vicious, deceptive, or brutally jealous personality, I can only assume Heller's interested in Krak for her body.

"You're not a scold," said Heller.

"Yes, I am," said the Countess.

"Let's fight about that," said Heller.

They both laughed but for the life of me I couldn't see the joke.

I think it's funny because they're focusing on a somewhat exaggerated flaw in Krak's personality rather than all her other disturbing, more serious, character defects.

(Bleep) them both!  While I didn't have any idea what he was up to now, I knew it boded no good.  I had better watch this very carefully.

Glad we got to see the whole unenlightening conversation, then.

Gods, how I needed an idea to wreck them!

And we're back to watching Gris sit around, waiting for "INSPIRATION!" to strike and give him a half-baked plan that will prod the plot forward another half-step.

Back to Part Fifty-Nine, Chapter Seven

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Part Fifty-Nine, Chapter Seven - Child Abuse and Further Revelations

Right after Jowls-Closure leaves, a jeep drives up to the villa to deposit an enraged man roaring about "Bombed mosques!" and how "Oh, Gods, we were doing so great without him!"  It's Faht Bey, the beleaguered commander of the base!  He's here mostly to be angry and inform Gris that the Blixo will be landing tomorrow, express his hope that Gris will go back to Voltar on it, and threaten to report Gris' shenanigans to Lombar Hisst if he does anything to jeopardize the Apparatus operation in Afyon.  He also tells Gris "There isn't a single person in this area that would befriend you."  Then he drives off.  Bye, Faht Bey!  I still haven't figured out why you're not in charge instead of Gris. 

Gris gets all sad because of Bey's remark about him not having any friends.  I'm a little confused why the author is attempting to garner sympathy for a character he has spent over two thousand pages making as utterly detestable as possible.

And then Utanc rushes out of her room and prostrates herself before Gris.  She's got something to confess - she's the one who forged the mortgage of the Apparatus base after Gris cut off her credit cards, on the advice of Grabbe-Manhattan's associates in Istanbul.  Hence the new red Ferrari in the driveway.

I don't get what we're supposed to take away from Utanc.  Gris is a pretty miserable misanthrope, and his reaction to a beautiful woman seems to be either "I'd love to (bleep) her" or "this (bleeptch) is scary."  With maybe one or two exceptions, he doesn't get along with people at all, and Faht Bey is right about him not having any real friends.  But somehow, Utanc has completely hypnotized him.  Here, when she admits that she's the one who could cost him his life for having mortgaged a secret alien base to the natives, he spends one sentence being angry at her before falling back under her spell.

So is she supposed to be that beautiful, somehow able to elicit a protective response from a murderous rapist?  How can we explain the fact that Gris fell in love with her photograph and keeps setting aside his paranoia and vengeful nature whenever she's around?  In short, what about her character makes Gris act so blatantly out-of-character?

Suddenly I realized that Grabbe-Manhatten had taken advantage of this shy desert girl from the Kara Kum in Russia.

From her side she drew a curved knife.  Reaching up, she extended the hilt.  "Kill me."

I looked at her, stunned.  The idea of those beautiful black eyes going dead made my own blood run cold.  I cried, "NO!" and thrust the knife aside.

She dropped it to the patio pavement.  She seized my hand in both of her own.  "O master, do you forgive your slave?"

I looked down at her.  Suddenly all the love I had ever felt for her surged up in me.  I thought of her dances, the joy I had taken in her.  "Yes," I said.

So is this a commentary on love in general?  How inexplicable affection can tame even the darkest of hearts?  And not the jarring juxtaposition of unquestioning devotion on a character marked by dark paranoia?

Well, right after that happens Teenie shows up.  She asks who Utanc is, Gris goes all cold and introduces the woman he purchased as "The only woman I will ever love," and Teenie's little heart is shattered and she starts to cry.

Hubbard?  We don't care.  We don't care about this wretched simulacrum of a love triangle.  We don't care that two manipulative, lying women are fighting over a man who deserves a bullet in the brain.  We don't care about the relationship problems of three characters you have made as detestable as possible.

Thus spurned, Teenie explains her weird behavior for the past too-many pages.  When she met Foreclosure in Bermuda and learned of the threat to Gris' financial future, she stalled and went about selling the Golden Sunset.  The plan was to sell it to the Crown Prince of Saudi-Yemen at Alexandria for five times what Gris had paid for it, thus wiping out Gris' debt altogether.  But then Gris jumped ship, Grabbe-Manhattan seized it to sell to the prince for their own profit, and now her plans of starting a whorehouse somewhere with Gris are ruined.

"You expect me to believe that!" I snarled, getting madder by the second.

Exclamation point, not a question mark.

"You better believe it," she said.  "We're two of a kind, you dumb jerk.  Both of us are rotten to the core.  We're so screwed up with psychology and crime we got no idea which end is up.  But at least we can stick together!  There ain't any hope otherwise.  And you blew!" [sic]

She's almost certainly telling the truth, if only because that would mean the greatest amount of misfortune for Gris.  So there you have it!  All the deeply suspicious behavior was nothing but an attempt to run off and start a new life as an underage prostitute with a man she loves who is years older than her and doesn't tolerate her beyond a (bleep) at night in some far-off country.  

And she didn't let Gris in on any of this why?  Was it a birthday surprise or something?

Teenie and Utanc hiss and spit at each other over Gris.  Utanc runs off after Teenie calls her trash.  Gris flies into a rage, reaffirms his hatred of Teenie, and slaps the girl hard enough to send her flying into a wall.  While bleeding from the mouth, Teenie threatens to go back to New York and get her revenge on him in some undisclosed fashion.  Gris reminds us of that injunction that could land him in jail for rape-of-a-minor if he can't produce Teenie in a reasonable amount of...

Wait, they've been boating around for weeks now and that still hasn't gone off?

And he can't just kill Teenie, because, but luckily Gris has another flash of "Inspiration!" and realizes "I WOULD SEND TEENIE TO VOLTAR!"  Because it'll be easier to produce her in... a reasonable amount of time... if she's on another planet.  

This plot fits together like a sack of bricks tumbling down a flight of stairs.

He mentions Madison is nearby in (Gris') bedroom, and when she runs in to have a good cry, Gris throws the gas bomb he picked up last chapter.  Or more accurately, shoves the thing into her face, making it a "bomb" you have to use at arm's length, where you're presumably in danger of inhaling the same fumes as your target.  Especially if your physiology is more vulnerable to drugs and stuff than the inhabitants of Blito-P3.

All that to say - now we know exactly how Gris' current financial problem came about, and how stupid it all is, and now Teenie and Madison are both prepped to go to Voltar.

Having no crystal ball or ways to read the horrible future to hand [sic], I thought, with satisfaction, that that was the end of Teenie.

And so ends Part Fifty-Nine and the long, arduous road back to the place we didn't want to go.  In the remainder of the book, Gris will ignore all these recent developments and go back to worrying about the people he's supposed to be stopping.

Back to Part Fifty-Nine, Chapter Six

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Part Fifty-Nine, Chapter Six - The Mystery of Black-Jowls, Revealed!

The only people happy to see Gris return to his villa are Musef and Torgut.  You know, the wrestlers who failed to menace Heller back in Book Two, only to inexplicably return in Book... Five? as Gris' bodyguards and servant-beaters.  That Musef and Torgut.

The villa staff is all peeking around corners, the two little boys Gris whimsically had surgically altered to look like 1930's Hollywood actors go running into Utanc's room... man, it's all coming back.  All the stupid stuff, all the boring stuff, all the things to hate about the chapters set in Turkey.  A place on the other side of the world from the plot where nothing pleasant happens.

So let's hit the new stuff.  Gris has Madison put away somewhere, awaiting disposal - he tells the publicist that there's Mafia assassins about, so Madison shouldn't be surprised if he's locked in his room.  Gris changes clothes, shaves, showers, gets some food so Hubbard can show off his knowledge of Turkish dishes, though given all the things he's gotten wrong about the country I wouldn't be surprised if sira was a type of antiperspirant rather than a beverage.

And then the hammah drops.  A servant says that Gris has a visitor, and who does it turn out to be but "THE BLACK-JOWLED MAN!"

Gris immediately accuses Jowls of being in cahoots with Zengin the banker... because Jowls admits to being in contact with Prahd?  That's how Gris logic works?  Well, Jowls explains that while he's talked with Zengin, who had to execute a mortgage to pay for Gris' yacht, the man will undoubtedly be unhappy upon learning that it's been seized.

"Then who in the Hells ARE you?" I demanded.

"Perhaps I better introduce myself," he said, taking out a card from his wallet.

I looked at it.

International Mortgage Division

Hubbard.  Sit down, we need to talk.  You keep sticking foreclosure and "evil bankers" arcs in your sci-fi epics.  We thought Battlefield Earth might have been a one-time thing, but it looks like you may have a problem.  But we know someone who could help, someone you could talk to, a psy- wow.  Didn't know the old fart could go through a window like that.

Jowls - well, better start calling him Foreclosure now - has a heap of news for Gris.  When Gris tries to pull rank against the guy, Foreclosure explains that Gris is no longer the Rockecenter family "spi."  Turns out Gris' bosses finally noticed what a terrible job he was doing once Miami stopped buying oil after getting free energy from Ochokeechokee, Florida - especially when they took photographs of a certain engineer who Gris swore was stopped once and for all.  Mr. Bury confirming that Gris had taken Madison for a cruise convinced Rockecenter's crew that Gris had been bought, and not only has he been fired, but they'll charge him with accepting bribes if he shows his face in the States.

Which begs the question of why, if Rockecenter's cartel can take photographs of Heller, they can't take potshots at him with a sniper rifle.  Or use their control of the American government and media to go after him.  As a matter of fact, it looks like the unstoppable juggernaut of Rockecenter's drugs-energy-banking-media monopoly cannot do anything to hurt Heller without Gris or Madison.  For the rest of this book, at least, they're out of the game, while Heller continues on his merry campaign of clean energy and rainbows.

It also turns out the mortgage Foreclosure is talking about refers to a mountain and thousands of acres of prime poppy-growing soil.  Which is to say, Gris tried to mortgage not only the chief supply of the drugs the Apparatus hopes to use to conquer the Confederacy, but "THE ENTIRE EARTH BASE!"  Now, Grabbe-Manhattan did some digging and learned that Gris isn't quite the legal owner of this property, but were willing to overlook that and simply chase Gris back to Turkey (with Teenie's help) and offer him an out.  The yacht is a start, but if Gris is willing to buy the villa and the mountain and all the poppy farms, he can give them to the bank and clear his whole debt.

There's a catch to all this: Gris isn't quite stupid enough to try to mortgage his base.  Well, he is, but someone still forged his signature on that document.  He doesn't protest his innocence beyond a single sentence, though.  Instead he admits defeat, gets up, and presses that secret button he installed two books ago to summon Musef and Torgut to knock out Foreclosure, and has him dragged off to a cell in the Apparatus base.  And all it takes is a phone call from Musef on behalf of Mr. Foreclosure to assure Grabbe-Manhattan that everything's going well, but it'll be a week or two to close the deal.

And that's about it for the "Gris is financial trouble AGAIN" plotline!  We'll hear a little more about it next chapter, but after that Gris will decide that the best way to solve that problem is to deal with the actual thrice-damned plot.  We'll have to wait until a later book for the thrilling conclusion to Gris' mortgage problem.

I had bought time.  I did not know exactly what I was going to do.  I had a week or so to handle this.  I must think of something.

I was halfway down the chute to the very worst of Hells, but actually, at that moment, didn't know it.

Actually by my count, we're like 5/6ths of the way through - oh, Gris is referring to a different hell.  My mistake.

Back to Chapters Four and Five