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