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


  1. "As Gris' attention returns to Krak and Heller, so does Hubbard's brand of withering satire return to the book" Is this intended to remind me of Proverbs 26:11?

  2. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't take enough Sunday School classes to make the reference directly. I think I first heard the quote in a Terry Pratchett book, The Fifth Elephant.