Friday, August 30, 2013

Part Sixty-Four, Chapter Nine - My Little Aliens: Friendship is Blackmail

Gris spends the night in the hospital, under guard, and the next morning Dr. Bittlestiffender shows up to give him some more "healing catalyst."  He dismisses Gris' minders, leans in close, and tells him "I am your friend."  Gris assures us that, were it not for the straps on the bed, he'd have torn Prahd's throat out.

Prahd explains that he spent much of yesterday removing those audio-visual bugs from Krak and Heller's skulls, each taking turns to hold a gun on the doctor while he worked on the other.  But Prahd didn't mention the surgery he did for Gris, when he implanted a mysterious something inside the agent's skull.  Prahd doesn't know what it is, and he's sure Krak and Heller would be interested, but so long as Gris meets his "proper obligations" - Bildirjin's dowry, the hospital funding, the mosque repairs - Prahd won't tattle.

In short...

"Blackmail!" I said.  "You swine!"

"Well, it takes one to know one, doesn't it?" said Prahd, gathering up his instruments.  "Or shall I put it another way: I have learned a great deal serving in the Apparatus.  You have been an excellent instructor."

This makes no sense.

Surely Prahd has noticed that Gris is a bound and guarded prisoner?  Surely he heard when Heller declared he was taking over the base and everyone now works for the Fleet?  Hell, Prahd got the man's assurances in person that he'd finally be getting paid.  All Prahd has to do is tell Heller that Gris owes a bunch of money, and Heller could strongarm his prisoner into paying up.

More to the point, that's exactly what happens next chapter.  Heller hauls Gris to the bank.  Heller settles things to pay the dowry, to pay for the medical program, to pay for the mosque.  So why in the Manco Devil-infested Space Hells is Prahd blackmailing Gris over his secret implant?

For this next scene.

Later in the day "THE COUNTESS KRAK!" pays Gris a visit with a hypnohelmet fresh out of the box.  Without ceremony she plops it on his head, demanding to know how he overcame her compulsion to not hurt Heller, and how he was able to hurt her.  But, because the thing Prahd implanted in Gris was a starship's "breaker switch" set up to nullify all the similarly tampered-with hypnohelmets in the base, and because Prahd has inexplicably decided to hide the fact that Gris has a secret implant from Krak and Heller, Gris is able to lie.

He claims that he got sick and went to Slum City one night, and the doctor found out about and nullified Krak's hypnotic suggestion.  He also insists that he in fact rescued Krak from a plane under terrorist attack.  Krak is silent for a moment but seems to buy this, then declares that the Slum City doctor is wrong, therefore unnullifying her previous orders, adding that if Gris tries to escape he'll feel like his legs are on fire, and if he stops being helpful he'll start puking.  Then she makes Gris thank her for the "help" she says she just gave him.

So, Gris is forced again to play along, pretending he's been hypnotized even though he hasn't, waiting for the next opportunity to escape or backstab Krak and Heller.  Pretty much what he's been doing on and off since Book One, in other words.

This?  This is the problem with hypnohelmets.  The author loves them to death, they allow his characters - specifically Krak - to go around solving problems almost effortlessly, bending others to their will in ways that frequently humiliate their enemies.  They're too powerful, in fact, so in order to have any sort of dramatic tension or conflict, Hubbard has to think of ways to keep Gris free of their influence so he can functi... so he can attempt to function as a villain.

And that's where things get convoluted.  Gris has to bring the helmets to Earth so Krak can use one later, but he can't outright destroy them for the same reason, so we get those awkward scenes where he oscillates between being terrified of them and hoping to use them to his own ends, then he has to sabotage them in a manner that prevents them from working on him, but then he can't use them effectively himself because of that breaker switch, and so on.  And now Prahd has decided to blackmail someone already at his mercy to maintain the illusion that Gris is susceptible to Krak's brainwashing.

All so that, in a couple of chapters, Gris can make another attempt to escape from and betray Krak and Heller.  Even though just a few chapters ago, Gris was able to make not one but two attempts to backstab Heller, despite not being under his supposed hypnotic control.  You might wonder why the story even needs hypnohelmets, except next chapter Krak again uses one to cheese her way through another problem.

I think laziness is a part of it.  The author wove such, uh, cunning plots to ensnare his heroes with, all that "black PR" and a professor who was gonna flunk the main character and whatnot, that the only way they could prevail was to basically cheat - thus nullifying the problem in an insultingly quick and easy way, resolving conflict with no character development, and making the reader wonder why the author even bothered with the likes of Miss Simmons.

Beyond that, from what I've read about Hubbard, I suspect that he would have dearly loved to have a hypnohelmet in real life.  So there's probably some author appeal at play too.

Anyway.  Gris resolves to cunningly play along with Krak and Heller - much like how he planned to cunningly play along with Heller, despite not getting hypnotized by him - until he can throw them at Lombar when they go home.  Just a few more chapters of humiliating Gris and then we're off this planet.  

The hell of it is, in 70 pages Gris drops out of the story.

Back to Part Sixty-Four, Chapter Eight

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