Monday, September 30, 2013

Part Sixty-Nine, Chapter One - Ancient Plot Points

You know who else doesn't have any air cover?  The Voltarian capital.  No ships are in hot pursuit of the survey vessel that made an unauthorized landing next to the imperial palace minutes before all hell broke loose, or even hail it to ask for its help evacuating people from the looming disaster.

Instead the auto-piloted tug zips up and away, six hundred miles above the planet and climbing, on a course to... well, fiery death.

"We are going to come too close to the moon Niko if we stay on this course."

"Well, avoid it," said Heller.

"You better make up our mind where we are going," said the tug.  "At this acceleration, space only knows where we'll wind up."

Corky, who still isn't referred to as Corky, is smart enough to pilot the ship, but not smart enough to avoid hitting a moon. Also, he's incapable of closing the "radiation port covers" on his own.  So he's basically a high-tech brick you can put on the gas pedal and have inane conversations with.

Now Heller decides to turn on the radio to listen for any alerts, and sure enough there's a "shoot on sight" warrant out for one Jettero Heller accused of attempting to murder Apparatus Chief Lombar Hisst.  Krak and Heller decide they don't have time to wonder how they knew it was him in the tugboat, in order to increase the shock later when they discover Gris survived.

And while there's an alert, again, there's no spaceships out to enforce that alert.  The "defense perimeter" around Voltar doesn't even bother to scan the supposed survey ship rocketing at Ludicrous Speed away from Palace City.  In fact, said defensive perimeter doesn't seem to be doing anything at all.  All the author had to do was mention the orbiting system patrol crafts scrambling to find a threat to defend against, or the planetary defensive grid being thrown into disarray by the "imminent" destruction of the imperial capital, but nope, no verisimilitude to be found here. 

His Majesty is in a bad way, with an irregular heartbeat and restless sleep, so Krak and Heller try to tend to him with an oxygen mask and stuff.  The Emperor's arms as marked with scars and punctures, and Heller finds it all familiar...

"Heroin!" he said.

"What?"

"I've seen this before.  Mary Schmeck."

Whaaaaat?!  You mean that character who showed up for a couple of chapters way the unholy hell back in Book Two before unceremoniously dying, off-screen, is actually going to have an impact on the plot?!

"Who?  A woman?"

"Never mind.  The poor thing died.  And all for the want of a nickel bag."

The Countess Krak was puzzled.  "What was all this?"

Jet ignored it. 

Don't talk about the subject until it goes away, that's a good man.  The less your girlfriend knows about your past, the less she can use to fuel a jealous frenzy.

"Hisst made the Emperor into a heroin addict," said Heller. "I don't know if this is also something else. But he is sliding into withdrawal symptoms and at his age, I don't think his heart will stand it."

Krak is charitable enough to urge her boyfriend to save "the poor man"'s life regardless of whether he signs anything or not.  Luckily, Heller has an idea.  He remembers from way the unholy hell back in Book One, when Gris attended Tug One's launch party stoned out of his puny little mind.  So maybe Gris hid some more drugs on the ship somewhere!  The ship Gris was rarely around, and didn't have security access to... anyway, Heller is therefore motivated to search Gris' cabin, and when he finds nothing, go on to search the rooms used by those Antimanco pirates, so he can finally find:

PACKAGES!

Amphetamines, morphine and heroin!  Stabb had been hooked!

Quickly he went to the remaining vaults of other members of the Antimanco crew.  They had also been hooked!

Oh, that would explain why they were... um...

The problem with this is that while the revelation that a set of characters has been on drugs for most of the book would explain their strange and/or stupid behavior, Stabb and his crew never stood out from the general level of stupidity maintained in Mission Earth.

Anyway, Heller explains the odd situation he's in, of having to give the Emperor another shot of what's killing him in order to keep him from dying, then gets to work.

He was trying to remember what he had read in the office of the FBI.  The one thing that stuck in his memory was that Mary Schmeck would not have died had she had her fix.

I've got two theories about these sentences.  First is that Hubbard has forgotten about Heller's superhuman memorization skills that let him listen to a sped-up language tape and master it perfectly.  The second - and this is a long shot - is that this is actually an understated bit of characterization, that Heller doesn't remember anything about his time in the FBI office because he was so affected by Mary's shocking death.  Take your pick.

The downside of this oversight/touching moment is that Heller has to completely guess when it comes to preparing the right dosage of heroin for the Emperor.

"Do we know what we're doing?" said the Countess Krak, for his hesitation and uncertainty were far from usual.

"No," said Heller.  "We only know that if we don't do it, we may have a dead man on our hands by tomorrow.  Get that blood-pressure tube and wrap it around his upper arm."

Note that once again, Heller's hesitation and uncertainty are only revealed through another character's reactions.  Despite the narrator focused mainly on him, we're still given next to nothing about his thoughts and feelings.

Also, why "we?"  Is Royalty contagious?

Anyway, about a page of tense moments and crap as Heller prepares and sticks the Emperor with a dose of smack or crunch or whatever.  And even though Heller's only been around human drug users, and Voltarians are much more susceptible to drugs, making it much more likely for them to accidentally overdose, Heller of course gets everything correct and the Emperor sinks into a deep slumber instead of cardiac arrest.  Yay.

Heller and Krak now face the problem of what to do next.  Hisst is after them, the Emperor needs a doctor, but no planet in the Confederacy is safe and no doctors in the Confederacy know how to deal with The Drugs.

Suddenly he and the Countess Krak looked at each other. They both said it at the same time. "PRAHD!"

So just 121 pages after returning to Voltar, we're going back to Earth.  An odd decision, don't you think?  After all, Heller had wrapped up Mission Earth quite nicely, solved the world's energy crisis, and killed ten million people.  What could there possibly be left to do on planet Earth?


Back to Part Sixty-Eight, Chapters Six and Seven 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapters Six and Seven - Grand Theft Royale

Like I said:

His only salvation, Heller realized, was to get to the Emperor.  How you could explain two dead guards, he didn't know.

"Jettero 'Jet' Heller, you stand accused of piloting a stolen spaceship into restricted airspace, trespassing within the imperial demesne, killing two of His Majesty's loyal guards, and burning His Majesty's property.  How do you plead?"

"I've got His Majesty's signature on a certificate saying what a jolly good fellow I am."

"Oh!  Never mind, then."

The door to the imperial quarters is locked, so we get a couple of action-packed sentences as Heller fishes the key out of the ash pile left behind when he critical-killed those guards with an energy weapon.  Naturally, such a plot-important item is indestructible (otherwise Heller would have to reload his quicksave), but the intense heat from those electrical flaming swords means that Heller's hands get blistered even through the cloth hanging he uses as an oven mitt.  No doubt he's bitterly wondering why a millennia-old civilization that uses black holes as generators and time as an engine still hasn't figured out an electronic keypad or retinal-scanning technology.

The key gets stuck in the lock, but he's able to open the door, pass through, and bolt it behind him.

He had had no real idea what he had expected to see: probably Cling the Lofty lying asleep on a huge bed all in silver and gold.  But that wasn't what he saw.

The place looked like a hospital!

The Emperor was lying on a narrow metal cot!

The place was filthy!

It stank!

Something's wrong here, everyone knows royalty never experiences flatulence.

His Imperial Majesty, Cling the Lofty, always looked like "a tall, well-formed monarch of middle age, perhaps ninety or a hundred, imperious, arrogant," in the portraits Heller's seen of him.  Now Heller wonders if he's in the wrong room upon getting a look at who's in the cot.

Yes, this was the same man.  But he must be at least 180.  He was shrunken and gray.  Only wisps of disordered hair remained.  The face was covered with age mottles but they were not what gave the impression: it was that he looked like someone who had starved to death.  Even the outline of the few remaining teeth could be seen through the skin of the face.

As Heller peered, the man's eyes fluttered open.  They were bloodshot in the extreme.  A palsied hand came up.  Then fear was replaced by some sort of recognition.

This next bit is somewhat puzzling.

The voice quavered, "Are you a Royal officer?"

"Your Majesty," said Heller and was instantly on one knee.

The skeletal hand reached out, feebly raking at Heller's chest.  "A real Royal officer," he said, as though it was too much for him to believe.

"At your service, Your Majesty."

"Oh, thank the Gods.  At last!  In the name of all my lineage, get me out of here before Hisst has me killed!"

Now I've been hard on this book for its emphasis on Royal this and that.  I'll admit it's possible that the use of Royal as an adjective is the result of Voltar's political evolution, much like how the United Kingdom has the Royal Marines despite the royal family being little more than a national mascot these days, and maybe this alien society doesn't believe in the innate superiority of people who fell out of the right uterus (but just wait a few chapters).

Either way Lofty's statement is weird.  If Voltar is all about worshiping its Royal figures, it's a bit strange for the emperor of said society to do the same.  If Voltar's a bit more practical, then why is Lofty being so picky here?  Why isn't his first response "get me out of here!" regardless of whether it's Saint Heller of Tug One or Bert the Janitor who finds him?

Also, His Majesty is assuming anyone who's wearing the uniform of a Royal Fleet officer is someone who'd never lie about that fact.

Anyway, at that moment Heller hears "Many!" boots from the other side of the door, and so radios "NOW!" to the Countess in the tug to do something that will be explained later.  Then the doors bust open and an unspecified number of guards rush in!  Gun-toting guards.  Rushing into melee range.  Against a guy armed solely with a baton.

The first guard in received the slash of the baton across his face.  He flinched and his blastrifle was in Heller's hands.  Its butt smashed the guard's chest in.
Heller dropped on one knee.

His finger hit the firing lever.

The bucking rifle sprayed an arc into the rushing patrol.  Flame erupted in their place.

Fragments of the patrol spattered through the room.  Heller stood up.  A guard was moving.  He fired once more.

There was only smoke and dismembered bodies in the antechamber.

The author felt that the door being locked and the key being hot warranted some exclamation points.  This?  Just another action sequence devoid of excitement or tension.

That minor chore handled, Heller wraps the Emperor up in a blanket or something, stuffs the Royal crown and Royal seal and Royal chains of office in the bundle, and runs off with the decrepit monarch in his arms.

There's a bunch of "sirens and gongs" going off, and the palace is suddenly filled with panicking streams of people.  Heller gets to fight against the tide of people, then once outside experiences life as a video game protagonist as he dodges boulders and vaults pits as he runs back up the mountain to the ship, made all the more difficult by 150 pounds of His Imperial Majesty.  No, there aren't any guards.  He must've killed them all.

Krak completely misses who Heller carried aboard and instead instantly notices his burned hands, then hurries off to get some "false skin" to treat him with like a good little wife.  As the tug's autopilot takes them past the impenetrable time distortion, Krak asks about Heller's instructions - on his order she pushed the tug's firing button, but nothing seemed to happen.

"Plenty happened," said Heller, holding his chest and trying to get his breath.  "You sent a stream of false gamma straight at their alert system.  It set off the alarms that tell them the mountain's black hole is about to blow up.  I almost got killed in the stampede!  They're probably jammed a thousand deep at the exit gates of Palace City.  You did fine."

He took a couple more deep breaths.  "Oh, am I out of condition."

Wonder how many were trampled to death in the panic?   If people die during football games and Black Friday bargains, I can only imagine what a radiation threat is like.  But yeah, more of that fake radiation to the rescue.

Krak asks about the signatures, and Heller doesn't answer, because communication is the key to a healthy relationship.  Krak asks again, and Heller finally explains that he got a little distracted by "other duties."

"What other possible duties could be more important?" she said.

Heller pointed at the man on the table.  "Him.  This is His Majesty, Cling the Lofty."

"WHAT?" she peered more closely.  "Oh, good Heavens!  It IS!"  Then she said, "He can still sign them!"

I love Krak's reaction!  I'm not sure if it's extreme optimism, as in "we've just caused a whole lot of trouble but at least we can get his signature now," or simply extreme self-absorption.  It just sums up so much of what's wrong with Krak.

Heller has to explain that not only is His Majesty in terrible health, but thanks to a "misunderstanding" with some guards, the Voltarian government is under the impression that Heller kidnapped the emperor or something, because when he grabbed that guard's blastgun he dropped that baton of his, which just so happens to have his name on it.

I'm not sure where the baton came from in the first place.  It doesn't appear when Heller gets dressed in Chapter Four, it just pops out in Chapter Five as part of his outfit, and of course the narration doesn't mention Heller's name on it anywhere until right now.  Good thing he dropped it, though, otherwise the base would have no evidence that he was the one who kidnapped the emperor and the plot would falter.  Because of course the most important and most heavily-defended place in the entire Confederacy is wholly lacking in security cameras.


Back to Part Sixty-Eight, Chapter Five

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapter Five - I'm Picturing a Plate of Onion Rings

So Heller hikes the mile or so from the mountains surrounding Palace City to the imperial residence itself, disguised as a utility worker with some coveralls worn over his Fleet dress uniform.  He reaches an "alert tower" and follows the conduit back to the palace - if anyone asks, he'll say he's a humble technician without any identification or documentation, wandering around unsupervised close to His Imperial Majesty.

The Emperor's palace is "quite commanding, bigger than the rest."  That and the fact that everything in Palace City is "built in circles" is all the author has to say about the seat of a hundred-world empire.  I went back and checked The Invaders Plan, and the only additional description it offers is that the walls are golden.  So big golden circles, that's our scenery here.

Heller doesn't encounter anyone during his approach, not even guards - but why would he, "for nobody in memory had ever tried to enter these precincts by the back door."  I mean, to do that a hypothetical attacker would have to somehow get through that black hole's time disturbance!

When he's close enough, Heller takes a moment to remove the coveralls and become the dashing officer we all know and put up with.

He came near the front of the building.  He started to exit from the front door and received an awful start.  There were two guards there, lounging on blastrifles.  They were NOT Palace City guards in blue and violet.  They were Apparatus guards in mustard yellow!

Lombar, honey, you don't make your takeover that obvious.  If you want your own men as palace guards, use your vast influence to enlist them through normal channels and keep them in the old uniforms.  Not that you need to, since if you control the emperor, and these thugs are obedient to the emperor, you shouldn't have any trouble giving orders.

Anyway, Heller plays it cool and "boldly" walks past, and the guards don't stop him.  But they don't salute him, either.  He passes another pair of "sloppy, disheveled Apparatus troops" within the palace and decides he needs the King's Own Astrographer Tars Roke with him, because plot.  Heller heads that way, but some filthy, slouching Apparatus vermin stop him, and when he asks about Roke is told that the guy's been reassigned to Calabar for months.  Heller concludes that Roke was removed to cut off his "communication line" back home while he was on Earth.  We've known this since... I think the "cipher" subplot started as early as Book Two, didn't it?  Three at the latest?

So Heller continues towards the emperor's quarters, feeling like he's headed into danger.  "The only thing which kept him going was the belief that if he could get the proclamations signed, it wasn't likely they would then instantly shoot him."  The emperor's signature is basically a Get Out of Jail Free card, huh?

This is getting pretty dull, so let's spice it up a bit.  Heller moves through the oversized, mirrored hall to His Majesty's bedroom, and one last set of guards.

Heller paced to the middle of the room.  He eyed the pair warily.  They were both big men.  The one on the left was sallow, with the twisted face of a criminal.  The one on the right had deeply pocked skin and a snarl for a mouth.  These were hoods, not officers, despite insignia and dress.

Uh oh, these goons warrant a few sentences of description.

Heller introduces himself as an officer of the Fleet bearing urgent news, but the thugs aren't impressed, and ask this visitor to identify himself.  Heller decides to take a risk and use his real name.  The guards take a closer look, confirm that it really is the Jettero Heller, and draw their electric swords for a battle.

Heller looked at the snapping shaft of the first one's sword.  It was coming straight for him.

Time seemed to slow down.

That blazing length was rushing straight at his stomach!  One touch of it and he would burst into flame.  He could not deflect it with his metal baton.

Well I say "electric," but the descriptions are of a "blazing shaft" and such.  Fire is basically the same thing as lightning, right?

Heller turned the first officer and, gripping the sword wrist, directed the blade straight at the rushing second man whose sword was upheld for a stroke.

The first man's sword stabbed into the other one.

The second officer's sword, sweeping down at that instant, decapitated the one that Heller held.

Flames and smoke made two blinding pillars.

Oh.  Well.  That was easy.

Heller had jumped back, protecting his eyes from the bursting glare.

The floor was alight with fire.  The room was blurred by the billowing smoke.

The tinkle of a red-hot button sounded as it bounced across the tiles.

Heller grabbed a hanging from the wall and beat out the fires.

Just look at this.  Where's the italics?  WHERE'S THE GRATUITOUS CAPITALIZATION?  We're barely getting exclamation points!

All the life's gone out of the story, right as we near the climax.  The author was just thrilled to tell us about all the exciting things happening to or around Soltan Gris, but when Heller and Heller alone is mowing down mooks, Hubbard's got no enthusiasm for it.  Maybe he was getting tired of farting out chapters of Mission Earth by this point?

He stopped and peered through the smoke at the hall entrance door. Had either of this pair hit a pocket alarm?

A just as important question would be why the emperor's palace lacks a fire alarm.  Or does the black hole prevent that too?  "Nothing can catch fire in the palace, it's thirteen minutes in the future," eh?

What a spot to be in! The least they would suspect was attempted assassination!

I'd joke about Heller really needing the Emperor's signature, except he says exactly that first thing next chapter.


Back to Chapters Three and Four

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapters Three and Four - Ostentation Worth Dying For

So Krak and Heller just narrowly escaped certain inconvenience during their excitement-free raid of Spiteos.  In the process they may have sorta wrecked the head of the intelligence agency that secretly controls the whole empire, so odds are bad that they'll be able to get some paperwork signed.

But, as Krak looks at the document that heaps another honor on Heller and promises him a safe Royal appointment, and the other that restores Krak's citizenship and estates on Manco, she realizes something: that is some fancy parchment. The decrees look "so beautiful with all their scrolls and seals." There's even His Majesty's (forged) signature.

"Look at these," said the Countess Krak.  "Aren't they worth some risk?"

See the seals and crap?  That's real wax, fella.  And look at the ribbon! 

Jet turned from his screens.  He read the papers and looked them over carefully.  He saw nothing wrong.  But still, they had come from Gris.  "Very nice," he said.  "We can hang them on the wall of a cave while we hide out."

Well if you don't trust the Gris-touched documents, why did you go to Spiteos for them in the first place?

"Oh, Jettero, our whole future depends on our bringing this off.  I must insist we make an effort to get them signed."

"WHAT?" he said.  "After crashing Lombar Hisst?  Right this minute he must be turning the planet upside down to find us!"

But Heller won't bother turning on the radio to check.  Guess he knows that the Apparatus would broadcast a fighter craft scrambling from one base, but not a planet-wide manhunt for the person who nearly killed its chief.

Krak counters that Lombar had no way of knowing it was Heller who attacked him, because of course Gris is dead now.  Anyway, even if there was an alarm, it'd never reach the palace, whose Royal guards would be above the concern of ordinary police matters.  Much like how the Secret Service wouldn't be interested in a manhunt for a gun-toting fugitive who attacked a Virginia army depot, you see.

In short, Krak thinks they should fly to the capital, use Heller's right as a Royal officer to get an audience with the emperor, and get an autograph.

"You mean I simply walk in there," said Heller, "and say 'Here, Your Majesty. Wake up! Sign on the dotted line'?"

"You've got your dress uniform.  You wore it the day you left Voltar for Earth.  You've even got your Fifty Volunteer Star."

"Oh, no!  Look at the time of night!"

"People are always rushing up to an Emperor with bad news.  You have a perfect right to rush in and say, 'Hello, hello!  Good news!  I knew Your Majesty was personally interested in Mission Earth.  Well, ho, ho, it's all done.  Sign here!"  And even if the word is out for us, if we move awfully fast we can get it done before Palace City hears.  And we'd be safe."

Because the signed papers will cancel out any ongoing manhunts?  If the emperor doesn't know you're a fugitive and signs a sheet of paper saying "good for you," your crimes are forgiven?

"Wow!" said Heller. "You're crazier than a combat engineer!  Forget it!"

"Stupider," the word you're looking for is "stupider."

"Jettero, as your future dutiful and obedient wife, I must put my foot down firmly and insist we go ahead!"

"Oh, Lords, Gods and Devils!" said Heller. 

Oh?  So since Lords are separate from Gods, is Heller invoking the feudal heads of the empire here?  In the same breath with deities and demons, even?

Also, why is the wife expected to be "obedient" and not the husband?  Why can't marriage be a compact between equals?

"If this is obedience, I'll take a tyrant any time!"  He laughed.  "But I'll show you I'm not a male chauvinistic pig.  If you're willing to take the risk, I'll give it a try.  But I want it entered in the log: 'I'm only doing this because I want desperately to marry the girl I love.'"

"Oh, Jettero."  She threw her arms about his neck and kissed him.

The tug said, "Sir, Red Warning.  You're in a power dive."

Humor, yeah.  Note that in all of this, we never get to see what the characters are thinking or feeling.  All that's narrated are words, actions, interspaced with walls of exposition.  It's like we're reading a script.

Now, do you remember when Gris told us all about Palace City and that captive black hole and everything?  Yes?  Too bad.

Palace City lies just south of a mountain. The mountain contains a black hole of undetermined age. The black hole gives power to the palaces and defenses. It also puts the city, because it warps the space, thirteen minutes in the future.

It could've been some big teleporter engine that hides the city in a pocket dimension, but noooo.  Hubbard had to use a black hole.

Wait, so are we still supposed to be impressed by this?  Just two hundred pages ago Heller did the same trick with a miniature black hole he used as a battery.  So if even one guy in a tugboat can manage this, why is Palace City the only place with this sort of protection?  Why didn't Spiteos, or every single important government base, get their own tiny black hole to hide behind?

And why the sudden use of present tense?

Looking down on it all, especially at night, there was exactly nothing to be seen but a sort of mist.

In all the ages since it had been built, Palace City had never fallen to outside attack.  Although sometimes it had changed hands due to a palace coup, it was considered impregnable, impervious to being breached.

You might say it was fortified, impenetrable, indestructible, invincible, invulnerable, unassailable...

Emperors and courtiers were used to living with the time stress: the compensation was that the place could never fall, even from riots and civil commotion.  The only danger that existed was the faint chance that someday the black hole itself might suddenly reach term and itself explode with unthinkable violence.  But they could live with this: the topmost government was so safe, the Emperor was so secure that only a madman would contemplate an overthrow of the realm.  Revolutionaries were doomed from the start.  People like Prince Mortiiy were rightly, by normal standards, looked upon as insane: even if they won a planet or two, they could never overthrow the whole government so long as Palace City held.

That's not how governments work.  Regardless of how much time and money we spend turning Kabul into a citadel, that doesn't mean anyone outside of the city will consider Karzai their leader.  The Confederacy didn't have to level Washington D.C. to secede from the Union, and the United States didn't cease to exist when the British burned the city down in 1814.  If Mortiiy's fifty-foot fire-breathing Manco Devils conquer every planet in the Voltar Confederacy and occupy every inch of ground outside of Palace City, it doesn't matter that the emperor is still loafing around in a time pimple, his reign is over.

Also, Gris was able to pass through this time distortion.  Krak and Heller are about to pass through this time distortion.  Lines of daily traffic pass through this time distortion.  So how the hell does it keep a hostile army out?

Cripes, almost three pages of straight exposition.  Hisst is hearing angels, and has gotten every member of the Grand Council hooked on The Drugs.

It had begun innocently enough: the court physicians had gullibly welcomed a means to stimulate the declining energies of Lords with small amounts of amphetamines.  Then, when nervous symptoms arose, they were only too happy to accept, with a touch of blackmail here and there, the balm of opium.  And from opium it went to heroin.  Uppers and downers had done their work.  Lombar Hisst controlled the supply.

Voltar medicine can give Gris a wonderpenis, but it can't keep an old guy awake.

So medical journals are raving about "the new miracle drugs," the general population is starting to take them up - why, when you already control the people who matter? - and Hisst has ensured his monopoly by using the law to forbid production within the Confederacy.  Hisst is also sporting enough to follow his own law, so Earth remains the sole source of The Drugs.  And of course nobody else in the Confederacy, no criminal underclass or band of pirates, has started up a meth lab or basement marijuana nursery.

The crown itself was inches from his grasp and each night he heard the angels sing and urge him on.  Mad already, Lombar Hisst himself was on drugs.  Slum-rat born, he saw nothing insurmountable to his ascension to the throne of Voltar.  Such a thing had happened many times on Earth: it was his model. 

So social mobility is bad, then.  The ruling class is meant to rule, and peasants should know their place.  Is that the lesson here, Hubbard?

That it had never before happened in the Confederacy was a matter he could brush aside.  With drugs he could do anything and he was winning all the way.  Palace City now danced to his slightest whim.  All Voltar awaited him tomorrow.  And every planet of the whole 110 would soon be his.

And?

What's the consequence of all this?  We've heard Lombar ranting about riffraff getting their just deserts, but we've heard Lombar rant about a lot of things.  Why should we care that a decrepit old monarch got deposed by an drugged-up little lunatic?  Are we supposed to be disgusted that some gutter rat without a title to his name thinks he should be king?  Or is there some part of this expansive galactic empire that we're supposed to feel worried for?  Even though just about all we've been shown is Apparatus stuff.

That was the actual scene which lay below the tug that night.  And Heller and Krak really knew nothing of it.

We already did.  Why'd you tell us twice?  Did you write this part first and forget to delete the unnecessary exposition?

Anyway, let's do stuff.  Heller, of course, got some spare ship ID's from Old Atty when we weren't looking, and so disguises the tug as the survey ship Wave.  Then he passes through that vaunted time distortion with as much effort as it takes to change lanes (the cat doesn't like it, though.  Did you remember the cat was still on the ship?  I didn't!).  Bam, they're in the future, where nothing can ever hurt you.

He has Krak stay on the tug with a radio to act on his signal, and she should keep the airlock closed to protect against the radiation emitted by the black hole... huh.  So the imperial palace is constantly getting dosed with gamma rays?  And it's safe there?

Heller also tells his honey not to bother with a blastgun or anything, that'd just attract attention.  So off he goes, strolling down the mountain they landed on, and now Krak suddenly realizes how dangerous this is and worries that she may not see him again.

Tune in next time for a tour of the Voltarian imperial palace.  And maybe a fight scene.


Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapter Two - Part Sixty-Six, Chapter Four, Redux

At least the narrator - whoever he is - knows the name of the heroes' spaceship.  As well as future plot developments.

Up into the Voltar night soared the Prince Caucalsia.  She had an appointment with destiny that none of them suspected.

It looked like a very simple thing to Jet from an operational standpoint.  His only worry was for the Countess Krak.

As far as he and the tug were concerned, they could escape detection.  A dull green cast of light from a partial moon made the surface of Voltar luminescent.  There was the main Fleet base to the south, and beyond it, Government City.  And to the west of these sparkling lights and glowing traffic streams lay the mountains which blocked off the Great Desert.

Yeah, we know, you described the scenery when Gris was there.  Also, is it me, or is the text becoming duller?  Short, relatively simple sentences, no attempts at flowery language.

Well, this is sort of an action chapter.  Maybe the tone is supposed to be terse n' tense.

The plan is pretty simple: fly in while invisible, put up that electric illusion of the tug, and lower a ladder so Krak can grab a waterproof envelope containing those pardons, which she stuffed inside a hole drilled for one of the base's "false radiation deflector"s.  Heller doesn't like the fact that the ladder doesn't have any absorbo-coat on it, but doesn't comment on the fact that Krak won't have any either.  He also doesn't like the green moonlight.

And that's about all we know about what's going on in our main character's head - what he doesn't like.  Heller's actions are narrated, we get to hear the things he says.  Sometimes through another character's comments we learn he looks tense, for example.  But we get next to nothing about his thoughts, his feelings.  When Crup is badgering him to steal the tug in the previous chapter, we don't see Heller's inner turmoil, his exasperation that his friends are trying to get him to break his moral code, his temptation to take that frickin' sweet spaceship, his embarrassment at being put through this in front of his girlfriend.  He just says "No."

He's just as opaque and distant as he was when Gris was narrating, in fact.  But we're supposed to like this total stranger, root for this aloof image of heroism.

Part of the problem is that the bloody narrator won't stay still.  It takes a moment to impart information the heroes have no way of knowing:

He did not know at that time that Lombar Hisst had long since parked a heavy flying cannon underground in the structure.  He thought all he had to do was get in and get out, and there was nothing like the quick-maneuvering tug to do a thing like that.  He could move it faster in the sky than gun controls could track it and get their heavy pieces repointed [sic] to fire. So his main interest was simply on making sure that the Countess Krak got down and got up. THAT made him very nervous. But he couldn't do the flying and the gymnastics, too.

Oh, guess he's nervous.   Good to know, in case we missed Krak telling him to stop looking tense earlier.

Anyway, Heller gets in position, the base guns start up a "cone of electric fire" above and below the phantom spaceship they're targeting, Heller tries to call the mission off but Krak goes down the ladder anyway, and the narrator follows her.  It's, uh, exciting stuff.

With handspan measures she located the plugged-up hole.  She couldn't get the rock out!  She reached into her pocket.  Nothing!  She had no tools!

A stone!  There was one lying ten feet away.

She sprang for it.  It was heavy.  She struggled back to the hole with it.  She raised it over her head.  She bashed at the rock.

I wouldn't say the writing's degenerating here, as this sort of basic language is par the course for a Hubbard Action Sequence.

The stone broke!

She seized a falling splinter of it.

The flickering fire of the barrage made it possible to see. She found a sharp edge in the splinter and used it for a pry.

The plug came out!

You get the picture.  Krak hears Heller yelling, pops out the envelope, starts climbing the ladder (a bit hard coming almost straight from Earth's reduced gravity), but then she hears "THE ROAR OF ANOTHER SHIP!" and sees "A FLYING CANNON AGAINST THE MOON!"  Explosion, another explosion, Krak starts to lose her grip, and then Heller yanks her into the airlock.

So that thing Gris saw plummeting from the spaceship?  That was the ladder he saw Krak hanging from.  His mistook a ladder for a woman.  How the opposite of shocking.

Heller takes - or has the autopilot take - the tug up to a hundred miles, but they can't use the Will-be Was drive because the science turbulence would be visible, and the flying cannon has a range of two hundred miles.

"Blast," said Heller.

"I don't have any guns, sir," said the tug.  "I can't blast."

"Shut up," said Heller and pushed the switch off automatic.

Hi Corky!  Not that they're calling you that anymore.

Now, the flying gun's scanners are aimed far below the tug, so while it's technically faster than and outguns Heller's ship, with the absorbo-coat and all it'd be easy for the tug to slip away.  But that doesn't seem to occur to anybody.  Instead Heller dives the tug "like a plummet," flips it around, and activates the "traction towing beams."  Guess they must have been repaired it at some point... without mentioning it.

The flying cannon was in his grip.  He began to swing it like a pebble in a sling.  It helped out by gunning its own engines in the same direction.

Round and round the other ship swung in a huge circle.

Suddenly Heller let it go.

He reversed the tug.

The flying cannon plummeted to the desert floor.

Sand flew, a crash resounded and the distant scream of rending metal faded away. 

Wow.

Remember when Gris was going through that?  The comments about the air whistling past the ship, Lombar screaming like an animal, Gris being pressed against his seat?  It was goofy as hell, but it felt real.  Well, realer.

This is dull, flat, lifeless, like the author's lost interest in his own story.  There's not even an exclamation point anywhere.

In the event that the Apparatus feels like announcing the launch of other (nonexistent) aircraft on an open, unencrypted channel, Heller turns on the radio, and happens to hear the alert at Lombar Hisst getting wrecked being broadcast on an open, unencrypted channel.

"Well, what do you know!" said Heller.  And then he looked sadly at the Countess Krak.  "We're for it.  I've slammed down the mighty Lombar Hisst."

"Oh, good!" cried the Countess Krak.  "Hurray!"

"No, dear," said Jet.  "It didn't burn and he probably isn't dead.  As he is spokesman to the Emperor, our chances of getting those documents signed now are exactly zilch."

This would be a devastating blow if the reader didn't already know that 1) the documents are fake, 2) Lombar wouldn't have let them get signed even if they weren't, because 3) he's got a strict "kill on sight" rule regarding Jettero Hellers.  

Tune in next time for stuff that we haven't seen already from Gris' perspective!


Back to Chapter One

Monday, September 23, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapter One - Jet for the Heller of It

And here, I think, is the point Hubbard gave up.

For nearly eight full books now we've been dealing with a first-person narrative, whether it be Lord Invay's disclaimer as the book's censor, 54 Charlee Nine commenting on his(her?) work as a translator, or most importantly Gris' "confession" that makes up the bulk of the text.  In the last case, the author has gone through extraordinary effort to devise a way for Gris to narrate Heller's activities on the other side of the planet, while at the same time contriving signal disruptions and other excuses for Gris to miss crucial pieces of information (assuming Gris doesn't simply decide not to watch Heller's viewscreen on a particular day.  Or month.).

This book promised a new narrator, and we just saw Monte give his account of how he discovered Gris' story and started further investigating this Mission Earth incident.  He did so through other people's reports and testimonies, suggesting that he could continue to piece together Heller's story the same way.  We could see Monte assembling a loose narrative from after-action reports and sworn testimonies, elaborating and clarifying the story through interviews and such.  If Gris' section was a typical action story told from the perspective of the evil villain, Monte's section could be that action story as uncovered by an investigative reporter.

Instead...

Jettero Heller, Royal officer of the Fleet, Grade X, and member of the Corps of Combat Engineers, tried to counter the eagerness of his lady, the Countess Krak.

He did not like the idea of approaching Spiteos, heavily defended as it was, in an unarmed and unarmoured tug.

Just returning from what he supposed to be the completion of Mission Earth after an absence from Voltar of ten months, he did not like the look of things.

A sudden shift to third person, and a particularly flat, lifeless third person at that.  Now that he's no longer writing from the perspective of a despicable villain or a laughable dandy, Hubbard seems almost subdued when discussing his super special awesome hero.

Also, Heller will be referred to as "Jet" from here on out.  This annoys me more than it should.

We get about two pages of stuff we already know.  The narrator reminds us that Heller was imprisoned at Spiteos before getting roped into Mission Earth, the Apparatus is up to something, Krak has royal pardons, going to Spiteos to get them will be dangerous, Gris is "apparently dead now," nothing new.  Heller gets to decide what to do next, because we've rewound the story to just as he and Krak are leaving Gris' office.

Well, a few more hours before reporting in would make no difference.  He was still operating under his own cognizance.  He decided to take a chance.  So he said "All right."  It was a fateful decision; even though it showed no signs of it on the surface, it was going to change the course of hundreds of billions of lives.

As opposed to a mere hundred million lives.  Also, I guess it's a third person omniscient narrator?

Heller passes Gris' confiscated blackmail material to Commander Crup while Krak tells the guy about Gris' "suicide."  Everyone bonds over the shared sentiment that it'd be wonderful for the rest of the Apparatus to suffer the same fate, because if there's one thing Heller's learned from dealing with Raht and Faht Bey and everyone else at Afyon, it's that every single member of the Apparatus is irredeemably evil and deserves only a painful death.

They meet Old Atty back at Fleet Reserve, who just stuffed Tug One full of food and fuel using the last thousand spacebux left in Mission Earth's budget - he even got some flowers for Krak.  Crup also mentions that Tug One... wait a minute, wasn't it officially renamed Prince Caucalsia?  I never use the name because I think it's stupid, but the characters aren't either.  Anyway, the tug officially belongs to the Exterior Division.

"Well, I don't want to turn a nice ship like this over to the 'drunks!'" said Jet.  "They'll just strip the silver and gold and precious stones out of it and use it to throw garbage in."

Which wouldn't even be an issue if some idiot hadn't decided to make a luxury tubgoat.

Crup makes a suggestion: since the tug's tail has been damaged, Heller should make a "total-loss report" so Krak (somehow) can keep the vessel.  Heller declines, because that would be dishonest.  But maybe morality isn't something absolute, maybe it depends on who you would be stealing from.

"Oh, you," said Commander Crup.  "You're dealing with the 'drunks.'  What's honesty got to do with it?  Look, I'll file the report for you myself.  I've got your mission-order number.  I'm blasted if the Apparatus is going to get anything off the Fleet!  Even if they paid for it."

"No," said Jet.

C'mon, was there any doubt?  Heller's just too damn heroic to steal.  He'll probably buy the tug himself, or

"Yes," said Crup.  "Lady, you've got yourself a space tug.  Put it in the back yard and raise kids in it."

That's just idiotic, like buying a luxury yacht and living out of it while it's on a trailer in the driveway instead of using it as a boat.  How stupid would you have to be to

The Countess Krak, dressed as a Fleet marine for disguise, blushed a blush that was visible even in the night.

They all laughed.  "I see I can't keep any secrets around here," said Jet.  "We've got to get going.  Tonight's work isn't done.  A million thanks to all of you.  If all goes well, I'll invite you to the wedding."

Well, I guess if it's stealing for Krak's sake, Heller's fine with it.  So what's the message here, Hubbard?  Morals are negotiable in the face of a sufficiently toasty piece of ass?  Or is Krak the Garden of Eden temptress leading Heller into sin?  Or is our hero simply caving in to peer pressure?

But anyway, here we are, back in the plot, as it is, now free of Gris cluttering up our narration with his stupidity and incorrect assumptions, leaving us with... well, not much.


Back to Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Eight and Nine 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Eight and Nine - Now We Can Finally Pick Up Where We Stopped Nine Chapters Ago

So Monte's days-old dream of becoming an investigate journalist has been dashed.  He spends the next day moping around the ruins of Spiteos, itself built on the ruins of a 125,000-year-old pre-Voltarian civilization, and starts composing "An Ode to Vanished Glory."  But then he has an "errant thought" ("INSPIRATION!"s second cousin) - what if there's been no cover-up at all?  What if the lack of Blito-P3 is due to Voltar wiping it out for posing some sort of threat?

He mentions his latest theory during dinner, but Corsca and Her Brother are unimpressed with the idea that a bunch of primitives could ever develop weapons that endangered the Confederacy.

He let out a snort of laughter.  "The Earthmen are coming!" he finally managed with a bucolic guffaw.

Corsa joined in with raucous laughter.

Her brother looked up at the twilight sky.  "Get under cover quick!  Strange ships are in the air!"

They really laughed.

I wouldn't have felt so bad about it but the staff around joined in.

And I really hope this is not the "Earthmen are coming!" rumors that Lord Invay hopes to dispel.  Because that would mean the government censor decided to publish all that stuff about Gris and Heller to discredit a failed poet-turned-amateur historian who nobody took seriously in the first place.

Corsca and Brother spend the evening drawing hilarious sketches of Earthmen, but around midnight, Monte is again awakened by Shafter to do some snooping.  See, Monte looked so damn dejected about that busted computer in Lombar's office that Shafter tried to find something to cheer him up.  And lo and behold, there's a room the primitive villagers use as a tannery, but which used to be a "computer feeder room" with sealed cabinets brimming with...

DOCUMENTS!

These were the originals!

RECORDING STRIPS!

These were the first-generation recordings!

"Will this do?" said Shafter.

"Oh, thank Heavens and all the Gods, yes!" I cried, my hands shaking.

"Well, that's a good thing," said Shafter, "because you just bought the place."

So that last chapter where the records were destroyed?  Uh, just a cliffhanger.  Yeah, building tension so that this chapter is more powerful.  Didn't your spirit soar when you learned that the trip to Spiteos hadn't been a waste of time?

Monte spends the rest of the evening/morning going through the Apparatus' legacy of "rape, murder and sudden death," quite shocked that any good, honest government could perpetrate such acts.

Kidnap this one, assassinate that one, blackmail someone else.  And silly crimes as well: "Poison his pet fish!"  And crimes that were stupid: "Break the windows of his house so he'll think the public don't like him."  

That's the Apparatus, all right.

But dominant were awful crimes: "Rob a bank, plant the evidence on him, make it look like suicide."  "Kidnap his children and when he comes to get them back, murder them in front of his eyes."  A catalogue of villainy such as I had never seen stared at me from this data bank: slaughter, arson and revenge--destruction, hungry and rampant!

How could this possibly be? Was THIS the government?

So what did you think happens when the majestic Voltar Confederacy conquers a planet?  Polite, friendly invasions?  The Fleet drops payloads of puppies and candy while combat engineers slip behind enemy lines to hook up fiber optic internet connections?

Monte even finds a file about how the Coordinated Information Apparatus harassed a "small religious group" by planting a false document, forging members' names on it, and raiding, arresting and executing the lot of them.  Poor small religious group.  Bet that obviously forged piece of evidence suggested that they were infiltrating the government or something similarly ridiculous.

We get a single paragraph explaining Shafter's remarks about Monte owning the place, when Corsca gently chides him for his "present" of ruins and lousy farmland.  Apparently the only way for Monte to get into those filing cabinets was to sign some deeds making him the owner and legal protector of the land and its inhabitants.  As far as this book is concerned, nothing further comes from this, so I'm not sure what the point of it was.  Maybe the author didn't want us to get the impression that Monte was stealing?

That night, Shafter and Monte go out for more secret investigations, this time finding old cellology laboratories, Krak's training gym, a stockpile of weapons and poisons and other nastiness stored in "preservation boxes," and hundred-year-old alien newspapers yellowed with age and nearly crumbling to dust because they weren't stored in preservation boxes.  I'm also surprised that paper does so badly in a filing cabinet buried under a desert.  Particularly newspaper - ever seen those "you need to recycle, you lazy slob" pictures of a fifty-year-old newsheet pulled out of a garbage dump?  And hell, in Battlefield Earth we get scraps of legible paper found in thousand-year-old ruins around Colorado, which while relatively arid-

I'm getting distracted by newspaper.  Monte goes through a bunch of survey logs, then uncovers a thick, juicy Apparatus file on Earth Government Intelligence Organizations.

The pack covered a span of about three thousand years.  Strange-sounding names jumped out at you: Julius Caesar, Karl Schulmeister, Napoleon, Webber, a host of them.  

I'm stumped who "Webber" refers to.  Maybe it's a fictional historical figure, representing the near-future setting of the book?  Or maybe the Apparatus was fascinated by a brigadier general from the US Civil War.

They seemed to get thicker as they approached later dates.  They were separated into groups, and near the top, the thickest one began with Cheka, then, moving forward, OGPU, NKVD, MGB, and wound up with Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Besopasnosti or KGB.  Another pack said OSS and CIA and yet another one said FBI.  I guessed that Voltar was keeping tabs on what the potential enemy was doing.  And they must be very interested, because every one of these documents was initialed by the existing Chief of Apparatus at the time of its receipt.  The latest ones bore initials which I knew by now stood for Lombar Hisst.

And good ol' Monte is downright giddy at the thought of blowing the lid off all this.  Yes, the government that raped and murdered its own people will surely let him publish such a devastating expose.

But then he finds an order from Lombar Hisst for the capture of Hightee Heller, a plan to lure her brother out of hiding so he can kill them both.  But Monte remembered seeing her on space TV the other day, graying a bit but healthy.

I wondered if she realized there had been a government plot against her life.  A celebrity like that?  Monstrous!

The lesson of Mission Earth is that some people are just inherently better than others.  Countesses bred for beauty and genius for generations, Royal officers, performers that can sound "SEXY!" - look, it's one thing to prey on the faceless masses, but any government capable of acting against Hightee Heller is beyond redemption.

Rather than continue to slog through all these primary sources and hard evidence of the Apparatus' activities, Monte decides that to get the full story of what happened to Jettero Heller's cat, he'll go straight to Hightee Heller, who barely featured at all in Gris' testimony!  So he does so.  Thanks to more family connections with the Homeview manager, Monte's able to walk right into Hightee's apartment to have a chat.

He introduces himself as a writer seeking to tell the story of Heller's life, and she directs him to a museum back at Atalanta, Manco.  But when Monte mentions the attempt on her life, she gets all dramatic.

She went to the window and looked across at Government City.  Then she said, "Are you a good fighter, Monte Pennwell?"

"I'm not sure," I said. "I never tried."

That seemed to surprise her.

I didn't say the drama lasted long.  Monte explains that he actually bought Spiteos, which is how he got the Apparatus' enormously incriminating paperwork.  And Hightee decides to accompany him back to her homeworld and give him what he needs to finish the story, because... well, he looks like "a nice young man," and he's got those family connections, see. 

And that was how, with the Apparatus files, I got all the data that permitted me to finish the confession of Soltan Gris.

I hope you appreciate it. It was an awful lot of work!

Really, you shouldn't have.

It DOES contain the cover-up of all time!

Which is why Lord Invay the Voltarian Censor decided to publish it.

And right now, with no more ado, I will get on with it and grab that Soltan Gris by the neck in midflight and tell you what really happened after that fatal day he rushed into the Royal Prison hoping to be executed quickly!

The REAL story is a stunner!

It's not so much that the story is substantively different as it is that now we get to hear how it ends.  So let's go with "FULL story" rather than "REAL story."


Back to Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Six and Seven 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Six and Seven - Scruffy-Looking Grazing Animal Herder

I wonder how it's pronounced?  Spit-e-os, like it makes you spit in disgust?  Spite-os, like it's full of spite?  Spy-tee-os, 'cause it's full of spies?

Monte calls Shafter, the family mechanic and manager of the estate's hangar-garage, to get the old "air-wagon" out and ready for a little above-the-road trip.  Then he orders Hound to pack for an excursion, even though Monte's mother has set up a swimming date with Corsca and her brother.  Monte has to promise not to make Hound listen to his next ode to get the servant to comply.  This does not preclude him from sharing it with us, so don't get your hopes up.

Momma Pennwell is not easily dissuaded, however, and so when Monte returns home he finds that I Guess Her Name Is Corsca and Corsca's Still Nameless Brother have joined the expedition as well.  Off they go into the Great Desert, Shafter at the wheel and Hound along for the ride, as they search for the ruins of the ruins of a castle.

After a few paragraphs of boring conversations about lepertige hunting and produce, the group finds a great ravine ringed with grass around the edges, next to a patch of black stone on the sand.  A nearby herder - not a shepherd, he's handling generic "grazing animals" - explains that he don't know about no Spiteos, but his grandpappy called this place Castle Rocks.  There's been a few earthquakes, though, so it just looks like rubble now.

While Corsca talks animal husbandry with the expository herdsman, Monte wanders around the rocks and, tragically, gets inspired by the scenery.

AN ODE TO SPITEOS 

Oh, grandeur fallen in decay,
You fill my soul with dread dismay.
Your broken, ruined stones that fell, 
Many a dismal tale could tell. 
Oh, in your blackness did you spring
Up, like some demented thing, 
From some foul, fetid, screaming Hell?
O Spiteos, you who speak of dead 
Forgotten men fill me with dread!
I'm glad your bones again will wed 
The ground on which your evil bled.
The cry of mourning is the moan 
Of desert wind. Not mine!
 I looked at it.  Pretty good, I thought.  You're in fine form, Monte.

From the way Monte preens over it, not to mention the next paragraph or two, we're probably supposed to view this poem as a source of comedy.  The problem is that, once again, it isn't much different from the "good" poems or songs featured elsewhere in the series.  So if you're an aspiring author expecting us to laugh at one song and swoon at another, please help us know which is which.

Footsteps behind me. It was Corsa and her brother and Hound. I couldn't resist reading it to them.

RAUCOUS LAUGHTER!

When she could catch her breath, and holding her side, Corsa said, "Oh, Monte! It will be such a relief when I can cure you of this obsession with writing. I honestly don't think my stomach muscles could stand too much of this."

From that moment, I hated her with enduring passion!

Not that he didn't already find her ugly, and boring, and representative of a horrible "respectable" lifestyle.

I hardly heard Hound's comment, "You promised not to read me another one of them things.  Shows I got to work harder impressing on you the value of keeping one's word!"

I sternly repressed the urge to write "An Ode to Those Who Have No Souls."

Wait, what?  But one of the unforgivable crimes of psychology is convincing people that they are naught but soulless animals!  And here Monte is, accusing others of the same!  Clearly we need to exterminate poets, too.

So Monte wanders around while sad violin music plays, rejected by his friends, lacking the metal detectors he was hoping his servants would pack, and wondering whether his career as an investigative journalist will be only two days long.  Then Shafter reassures him that they can always stick a spare fuel rod into the sand, which will "polarize the current" of any buried metal bits so that the electrical detectors he brought will pick it up.  It feels almost like Star Trek, we're throwing science jargon at a problem until it goes away.

All this will require some proper excavating, and rather than risk scuffing Monte's boots, Hound has the nameless herder of nameless beasts lead them to his nameless village, a collection of rocks and caves on the other side of the castle ruins.  Monte gushes about these being the descendants of the Apparatus' prisoners, but the herder explains that the tribe drifted in fifty years ago and settled near the ravine grass.

And this raises all sorts of intriguing questions!  What led the tribe into the desert in search of food?  How did they survive what Gris called, back in Book One, "two hundred miles of barren expanse, impossible to cross on foot?"  How can such primitives exist just a few hundred miles from cities that synthesize gold and manipulate black holes?  That sounds like the sort of situation you'd see on the disgusting planet Earth!

To summarize a page of hot excavating action, Monte eventually uncovers "A CANNON WHEEL!" twisted with battle damage.  He's so excited that he rolls the artifact into his tent and falls asleep.  He's later awakened to the sounds of villagers at work, while Corsca takes a moment to design land improvements to expand their grazing area.  But then Shafter finds what disappointingly isn't a coin.

A button! It had a symbol on it that looked like a bottle---no, a fat paddle with an upside-down handle!

THE APPARATUS!
Aha! The Gris confession was no myth!

We.  Know.  You know, too, you found that Fleet report verifying Spiteos' existence last time, remember?

Monte continues to gather such knickknacks while Corsca's Brother murders songbirds so he'll be able to sleep that night, making Monte wonder if Gris had Modron ancestry.  Then at midnight Shifter wakes him for some stealthy treasure-hunting.  Half a page later, in the middle of composing "An Ode to the Homeless Ghost," Monte falls down a hole.

But it's not a Fatal Injury Hole, it's a Convenient Discovery Hole.  There's "A DOOR!" made from some "impervious alloy" that the designers were too moronic to use on the thing's hinges, so Shifter is able to use a "disintegrator drill" to pop it open.  Beyond lies the remains of a computer bank and furniture that Monte recognizes from Gris' testimony.

I suddenly knew where we were.  That antique throne chair in the other office, this door, the desks tumbled about, all compared with the Gris confession!

WE WERE IN THE TOWER OFFICES Of LOMBAR HISST!

THAT WAS HIS COMPUTER CONSOLE!

What happens next is astonishing.

Monte asks Shifter to get some power into the thing so he can start perusing the Apparatus files'.  But they can't - their system of pumping electricity into the ground to search for metal has fried anything on the computer (sand and rock are conductive, right?).  So Monte won't be able to effortlessly dig into confidential documents.  Hundred-year-old electronics don't work whenever you need them to.  Given how the author normally handles these situations, it's almost surreal.

Prospects of Modon with Corsa and her brother 

Why are they a package deal?  Is this how Voltarian marriage works?  Grab a wife, get a cohabitating brother-in-law free?

or prospects of drudgery at dull desks were two types of torture it was impossible to choose between.  The green haze in the sky was not emblazoned with my name.  The mile-deep chasm looked very attractive.  Dully, I began to compose "An Ode to a Snuffed-Out Life."

That's four odes in two chapters, for those keeping score.


Back to Chapter Five 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Part Sixty-Seven, Chapter Five - The Report of Craftleader Soams

Having proved that there's a government cover-up of Mission Earth, Monte continues to search for evidence that the government covered-up Mission Earth.  Incidentally, this gives us an opportunity to revisit a minor plot point from the beginning of Book One.  It's almost like archeology, we're digging up ancient history!

Monte's great-uncle, Lord Guz, is Assistant Lord of the Fleet, so Monte decides to make the incredibly dangerous journey to those offices shaped like spaceships in Government City, in order to pursue another clue from Gris' testimony.  Our hero bravely avoids getting roped into an inspection tour of the 110 worlds in the Voltar Confederacy by stalling until Lord Guz and Admiral Blast get so sloshed on tup until they stagger off singing "Spaceward Ho!"

Now remember, even though this tup stuff puts people in an altered state of consciousness, and Voltarian has a word for "drunk," this virtuous society is flabbergasted by something like "drugs."

After that it's a simple matter of heroically lying about having permission to dink around on the Fleet's computer system, looking up the logs of Patrol Craft B-44-A-539-G.  Monte peruses the files close to the dates he wants, and "THEN, THERE IT WAS!"  The log of the survey ship Heller took to Earth, which Lombar had seized along with its non-Heller crew!

Don't remember?  Well, this stuff happened within the first hundred pages.

There's a conspicuous blank space in the records between Earth and where the ship gets refitted and sent out for other duties, but Monte hits the little Fleet Intelligence icon and, without being asked to so much as click an "I certify that I am at least 18 space-years old and a member of Fleet Intelligence" button, is able to dive right into a confidential report.

According to the file, the Baulk was found in pirate hands in the Flisten sector and recaptured following a battle.  Which means that instead of crashing it as ordered, the Death Battalion sold the ship to pirates!

Don't remember?  Well, it was a throwaway line in a throwaway subplot.

I was not interested in the battle with smugglers but I was interested in the patrol craft's crew.

In the Gris narrative, he had gone to Spiteos where the crew had been imprisoned, had gotten a prostitute and had put her and poisoned food into the cell and had supposed they would shortly all be dead.

YET HERE WAS A FLEET INTELLIGENCE REPORT ON THIS CREW!

You don't mean to tell me that Gris failed at a task, Hubbard?

So we get all four pages of the report in question to further pad this section of filler.  Long story short, when Gris offered the prisoners a prostitute as a "bribe" (remember that?), one of the Fleet crew, "a pilot from Flisten, recognized the girl as a Guaop from her eye form and long fingernails."  I suspect, but cannot verify, that this is a thinly-veiled racial epithet of some kind, but the closest I can find on Urban Dictionary is "guap/guop" for a wad of money.

Anyway, Cadet From Flisten was able to speak her lingo, and even though she had her larynx cut, they hatched a plan.  She smuggled in enough metal, using a "magic bag" and "sexual tricks," for the prisoners to arm themselves, then dumped the poisoned food Gris gave them in the guardroom - and we all know that Apparatus guards will lunge on any old morsel that falls on the floor.  The Fleet guys captured an officer, snuck out in Apparatus uniforms, and bought a ticket home and artificial voicebox for the hooker.  Easy peasy.

Craftleader Soams' recommendation to bomb this secret Apparatus base was unfortunately denied, due to an ongoing investigation.  But there it is!  The fate of that nameless crew captured before the book even started, thought to have died off-camera!  They made it out after all!  How exciting!

I was in an instant, giddy whirl!

This compared exactly with the Gris confession!

There HAD been an Apparatus!

There HAD been a survey of Blito-P3!

There HAD been a planet called Earth!

Oh, dear me! This WAS a gigantic cover-up!

We.  Know.  You established that in Chapter Two.  And you'll keep gasping how Gris' story is true two chapters from now.

After printing this stuff out and nonchalantly leaving the office after a guard takes an unhealthy interest, Monte realizes where he needs to go next - "SPITEOS!"  Boy oh boy, we're going back to where we were eight chapters ago.


Back to Chapters Three and Four

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Three and Four - Investigative Journalism, Voltar Style

Aaand in Chapter Three we go right back to Monte looking up things he read in Gris' account in official texts, then capslocking about how they aren't there.  Why was the interruption even necessary?  Guess Hubbard just ran out of steam that day.

Monte wakes up "despite the accusative racket Hound was making with spinbrushes and closet doors" and continues to wonder what happened to Izzy, Rockecenter, And The Rest.  He remembers Gris' reference to the legend of Prince Caucalsia, cracks open his 145th Deluxe Edition: In the Mists of Time, Legends of the Original Planets of the Voltarian Confederacy as printed by the government's Lore Sector, and finds that "FOLK LEGEND 894 WAS DELETED!"  Establishing, again, that things in the story aren't in the books so there's been a cover-up.

My eye was wandering over a page where an investigative reporter, Bob Hoodward, had overturned the presidency.  That didn't quite ring true. What was an "investigative reporter?"  I tried to imagine it. Obviously, it was somebody who investigated and wrote a book about it.  Yes, that must be it.  But to overturn a presidency?  That seemed to be laying it on rather heavy.  There was no such profession as "investigative reporter" in the Confederacy.  Had Bob Hoodward overturned the whole planet?  No.  The confession also said that he had gotten shot.

I'm surprised Voltarian has a word for "president" given their love of feudal titles.

Then Monte's mom makes him come outside and play "bat ball" with Corsca (previously The Corsca Girl) and her brother.  Monte doesn't have fun.  Then he goes back inside and gets right back to his investigation, as though the previous paragraph of interruptions hadn't happened.  Hubbard, why?

Monte opens up In the Mists of Time to confirm that yes, Folk Legend 894 isn't there.  Presumably there's a conspicuous jump from Legend 893 to 895.  Monte notices that In the Mists of the Time was published by the government, as were the textbooks he checked last chapter.  So the government... is not printing something... like they're putting a cover over it, covering it up, you could say... and assuming Gris is not making everything up... then "I WAS STARING AT THE GREATEST GOVERNMENT COVER-UP IN THE LAST MILLENNIA!"

We are learning nothing new in Chapter Three.

The weird thing is that right after making this statement about the "greatest" government cover-up, thereby implying that there has been more than one cover-up so that this example stands out as noteworthy, Monte says that

It was the first time I had suspected that the government would ever do such a thing.  Believe me, reader, it shook me.  I had always been brought up carefully to believe that, in government, truth, decency and honor were inseparable.  Every relative I had, had dinned it into me!  And I believed it myself!  Could a government actually pretend something didn't exist which did?  Could it be partners with a lie?  Incredible!

So he knows what a cover-up is, and that his government has done plenty of them in the past thousand years, yet is awestruck that the government would try to carry one out.

As Hound dresses him, Monte decides to become an investigative reporter.  Surely "they" would "HAVE to publish" his expose of the government's wrongdoing, or else he'd go on lecture tours!  And his name would be in lights and all his family members would be proud and he wouldn't have to marry that fat, rustic Corsca lady.  Damn straight!  Yeah, he'll blow the lid off this Mission Earth thing and expose the truth, no matter what

But wait, I had better be a little more steady on my facts. Had there been a government cover-up? Or was that copy of the Mists of Time just a printing error?

Oh.  That may be a good idea, yeah.

So in Chapter Four, Monte goes to visit his cousin, Sir Chal of the Royal Astrographic Institute.  After deciding that an investigative journalist would be "furtive," Monte asks Flipper, a clerk he's known since his boyhood, for some antique star charts to decorate his study with.  He ends up with a box of three-dimensional prints of flat paper that can move around thanks to an "optical trick," and sure enough one of them "WAS THE BLITO SYSTEM!"

Monte takes his finding to Cousin Chal, who pooh-poohs the out-of-date charts for being inaccurate, with "minutes of error" on them.  Monte counters that such errors shouldn't include the omission of entire solar systems.  Cousin Chal gets a weird look, says "Give me that chart" even though he's already holding it, and steps out of his office, demanding to know which idiot gave Monte the old papers.  And poor Flipper gets assigned to some space surveys.

It was quite a row.  It took me an hour to get connected through to my Aunt Ble and get her to get her husband Lord Cross to catch the transfer order as it came through the Royal Personnel Office and change it to librarian on one of our family estates.  I couldn't have Flipper's head rolling into my lap and staring at me with accusing eyes.

I've checked, and against all expectations, Monte doesn't seem to end up the lone fatality in a late-night vehicle crash on a lonely back road. 

I wasn't permitted to retain the chart. But I had something else. A conviction.

THERE WAS A GOVERNMENT COVER-UP ON THE SUBJECT OF BLITO-P3!

Lord Invay hopes that by publishing this story, which accuses the government of covering up Blito-P3, readers will stop insisting that the government is covering up Blito-P3.

And another conviction: Being an investigative reporter was not without perils!

Perils for the people around you, that is.

But I could begin to see my name glimmer in the skies of Voltar.  The nightmare of Modon faded a bit.

NOW what would I do?

Look up more files to confirm, again, that Gris' testimony is accurate and that, again, the Voltarian government is covering up Mission Earth.  


Back to Chapters One and Two

Monday, September 16, 2013

Part Sixty-Seven, Chapter Ones and Two - The Fool Monte

And now for someone completely different.

Needless to say, Soltan Gris did NOT get his quick execution. Had this occurred, I would never have gotten the chance to finish this story for you, for myself or for Voltar. (Long Live His Majesty, Wully the Wise!)
Instead of just bursting in upon you unannounced without so much as a trumpet blast, thus shocking your sense of proper decorum and protocol, perhaps I had better introduce myself.

I am Monte Pennwell, lately graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts. I am of average height, average coloration and, according to my mother and innumerable relatives, near and distant, a below-average chance of amounting to anything in life unless I give up the silly notion of becoming a writer of renown. How do you do?

Not that great, I'm slogging through a pretty terrible book.

This is our new narrator, a naive but idealistic young writer who presumably uses a pen with great aplomb.  I'm not quite sure what to make of Monte - with Heller it's easy to assume the Fleet officer is a stand-in for Hubbard's days in the navy, when he sank Japanese submarines in parts of the ocean known for producing false returns, or heroically bombarded Mexico.  It seems logical to guess that Monte represents Hubbard as master of the written word, except he doesn't have the kind of dynamic lifestyle Action Hubbard mentions in his About the Author segments.  Monte's a rich layabout, not a bronco-busting Indian blood-brother slash world traveler slash screenwriter.

My involvement---and, I trust, yours---in this matter of MISSION EARTH began in a quite bizarre way.

I suppose it is kinda bizarre to pick up a book in order to unflatteringly blog about it, because you'd previously done the same to another book by the same author.  Almost as bizarre as reading a blog about another guy reading a book.  Ours is a strange world.

So, this Monte guy has lunch once a month with his uncle Lord Dohm in the Royal Courts and Prisons, as part of a family-wide effort to introduce Monte to a real job.  During one such lunch, Monte suddenly feels inspired (it's not explicitly "INSPIRATION!" but probably related) to write an ode to the mildew swirling in the sunlight, and needs some paper.  So Dohm grabs some scrap sheets out of a box and hands them over, Monte notices the "Confidential" stamps on them, and sees that they are in fact the testimony of one Soltan Gris, who was begging for that quick execution.  Ta-da.

Heh, the author just said his story is as good as trash.

Dohm's not impressed, since all prisoners' records are confidential until their deaths, and Gris' stuff is destined for the incinerator.  But Monte deduces that Gris wasn't quickly executed, or else his files would've been destroyed decades ago (and a galaxy-spanning bureaucracy wouldn't misplace anything, would it?).  From the transcripts it looks like Gris started but never finished a trial, so clearly something fish-like is going on.  A disinterested Dohm tells Monte to take the damn box of paperwork if he loves it so much.  Monte does so.

Dohm also mentions Monte's mother's back-up plan of marrying him off to the ugly "Corsca girl," heir to half of planet Modon, known for its fresh air, fine outdoors, "Lots of interesting peasant revolts and different crops."  This depresses Monte, who returns to his family estates and statue park and personal tower and footmen to see to his wants and needs.  His is a hard life.

Time was running out. I had graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts over two years ago, and to date I had not had one tiniest line of anything published. I couldn't point proudly to even a pamphlet and say, "Look, I am a writer: please let me sternly forge my way against the tides of life on my own! I will blazon my name in fire across the skies of Voltar and be a credit beyond credits to everybody's credit one day, a veritable jewel in the family's crown, if you will just let me go my own way!" But alas, I knew that the patience of my numberless uncles, great-uncles, aunts, great-aunts, cousins and second cousins was becoming strained. My days were numbered and sooner or later they would pounce with ferocity and plunge me into some ignominious post of vast respectability. And there I would be, just a cog in the relentless grinding machine of pale gray society.

And I'm still not sure how much we're supposed to be sympathizing with this guy.  It's possible we're supposed to view him as a waste of space, some fluffy twerp writing odes to dust bunnies but never publishing them because they're not perfect or whatever.  Between his wealth and whining I'm finding little common ground, much less a reason to like him.  Yet Heller was aloof and opaque and obnoxiously perfect, but the author expected us to root for him.

Monte's domineering mother chews him out for getting mold on his clothes, as does Hound, Monte's big-handed "yellow-man" valet.  Hound's not a slave or anything, though, he served with Monte's father in the Great Offscreen War, and came back "very determined to bring up the son so he won't disgrace the family."  Practically a father figure, really.  A father figure who cleans up Monte's messes, dusts his room, can get yanked out of bed at four in the morning for dumb errands, and who shaves his young master.

The writer showers and changes into some fresh clothes (that Hound laid out for him) before getting back into Gris' papers.  He feels another ode coming on.

Oh, stern prison walls,
At last my heart hath . . . break? . . . broken? 
Bring down, bring down the headsman's axe 
To end . . . token? . . . broken? . . . hopeless fate? . . .

Well, I'd get it smoother later. I better find out what I was writing about first.

Still confused about Monte.  Well, I'm already tired of him, but I'm confused about the author's intent.  This is bad poetry, but I can't tell whether it's intentionally bad because it's on par with the songs and poems Hubbard gave us back in Book One.  "Lepertige Lady," oy.

I read all afternoon. I found myself quite absorbed. The prose was military, terse, unembellished. But also it was archaic. They don't write that way these days: they just use sounds and pretty words without bothering to put any thought behind them. 

Other times they use boring words without putting any thought behind them.  And sometimes they squeeze out a cumbersome brick of a first draft and try to pass it off as a novel.

The intent is to build up towers of metered cloud which then avalanche down into a great thunder of nothingness. It was interesting to read something which spoke of events and scenes in a realistic way. Novel idea. Some of the early classics are like that. They tell a story that has a beginning and an end and everything: remarkable. I shall try to imitate it.

So wait, does this mean that Earth actually does something better than Voltar?  'cause we produced great authors like... wait, I can't remember Heller or Gris reading anything other than a newspaper.  Or that captain's log, or textbooks.  They at least mentioned The Count of Monte Cristo, though.

Dinnertime arrives, and Monte gets roped into sitting with a woman who remains "the Corsca girl" and her brother.  The writer is bored by their talk of Modron and unnerved by his mother's unsubtle hinting, then he returns to Gris' text.  If the story isn't any different for the presence of a dinner scene, did it even happen?

Monte finishes the manuscript quite angry with Gris for not finishing the story.  The fate of two worlds unresolved?  Krak last seen plummeting into a chasm?  Heller a fugitive?  And what about the cat?  I'm not making that bit up, he asks what happened to the cat.  Monte decides Gris "ought to be executed for leaving a reader in the middle of the sky like that!"  Seriously, what kind of asshole would just cut off a book on a cliffhanger?!

He wakes Hound up at four in the morning (told you) to rally the servants to go to Monte's storeroom to get out his old schoolbooks.  Monte looks in the history text, which claims Mortiiy the Brilliant had an orderly succession following Cling the Lofty, but Gris' words would paint Mortiiy as a violent rebel.  When Monte checks a civic textbook on Voltar's government, "THERE WAS NO SUCH ORGANIZATION AS THE APPARATUS!"  None of Monte's relatives had ever mentioned it, so "THEY WERE KEEPING THE APPARATUS SECRET!"  What a cover-up!  What a grand deception, deserving of all capital letters, and even italics!

Hound gets sent for more textbooks, so Monte can look up a combat engineer (and racer, and bullet-ball champ) named Jettero Heller, but there's no mention of him going to Earth, or a planet Earth, period.  And then his servants get fed up and a still-confused Monte goes to bed.

End Chapter Two.

Well.  Here's our new narrator.  I don't like him, but at least I don't hate him; Monte hasn't raped or murdered anyone yet.  I just wish he'd go bother someone else.

The bigger issue here is what these chapters do to the story - not so much the adventures of Gris and Heller, but the framing device around them.  Remember, Royal Historian Lord Invay is supposedly publishing all this to put an end to any sensationalist stories of "aliens" and "Earth" and "psychology" and "drugs."  Which means he's not only publishing Gris' full confession, but Monte's evidence that the Voltarian government perpetuated a massive cover-up of these events.

This seems a counter-productive way of ensuring that readers disbelieve such tales.  Kinda like if the U.S. Government decided to put to bed the JFK assassination by publishing a particularly long and involved conspiracy theory.


Back to Part Sixty-Six, Chapter Seven

Friday, September 13, 2013

Part Sixty-Six, Chapter Seven - Back to Part One, Chapter One

It goes without saying that Gris survives crashing his flying bus at over four hundred miles per hour.  No seatbelts, no airbags, nothing but plot and space magic.

Looking up at the stone arches before the clearing smoke, I did not even take time to marvel that I could move!

Something was trapping me. The bag around my neck was caught under a control stick.

So immediately after noticing he can move, Gris discovers he's trapped.  Might want to word that better, herr author.

Gris frees himself and charges out of his second crashed vehicle, screaming at the prison's pike-wielding (archaic weapons in a world of blastguns?  classy!) guards for help.  They don't know what the eff and assume Gris is some sort of suicide bomber, but all the shouting attracts the attention of an elderly justiciary.  He's understandably confused why anyone would want to go to jail - even a Royal jail - but when Gris waves around his satchel and claims he has a bunch of evidence, the geezer admits Gris to an audience chamber.

Gris identifies himself as an officer of the Apparatus, making the justiciary wonder why he shouldn't send Gris to one of the Apparatus' separate courts, or the domestic police for crashing a bus.  But Gris claims that his crimes are against the state, and therefore Royal offenses.  The justiciary checks, but there's no Royal warrant for a Soltan Gris, so he tries to send the aspiring prisoner away to a lesser court.

So it looks like - I'm no legal expert - Voltar's got a pretty disjointed legal system.  There's the prestigious, incorruptible Royal courts that you only get into if someone at the top of the hierarchy issues a special warrant for your special crimes.  You've got a private justice system the Apparatus uses to regulate itself, and is therefore pretty crooked.  And then there's the normal Domestic Police justice system for everything else, which is also controlled by the Apparatus.

But remember, Earth is the rotten planet, Earth is the one with the corrupt "justice" system.  I mean, we've got lawyers!  And newspapers!

Fortunately Gris has some "INSPIRATION!" and mentions that a Royal officer had been hauling him in to Royal jail, before he "stopped off somewhere."  He also namedrops Commander Crup from the Emergency Fleet Reserve - remember him? - so the judge can call and verify all this.  He does so.

"Well, Commander Crup did not know what the crime was, but I'm sure if Jettero Heller was bringing you here it would have been against the state."

"You can hold me?" I cried with joy.

"Oh, yes. We can put you in a cell. But we need something for the charge sheet. What was the crime?"

"Oh, everything!" I said. "Just everything!"

"That's pretty general," said Lord Turn. "Can't you tell me something more specific?"

"Oh, that would take hours!" I said, anxious to get actually on their books.

"Well, supposing you just write it all down and then we'll know what this is all about."

So, in exchange for potential leniency, Gris is given a well-lit cell, writing implements, and medical attention so he can make a full confession.  A confession that we've been reading for the past 3,091 pages.  A long, rambling, painful confession containing events that I'm sure aren't pertinent to the case, and unrelated crimes that Gris gains nothing from mentioning.

Oh, I would tell all. I had my records and my logs. I would tell everything I knew about Mission Earth.

Who knew where Heller was?

And the longer I wrote, the longer I would stay alive.

Oh, right, he's explicitly stalling.  I wonder, then, why he compressed so many of his voyages on boat or spaceship, instead of wasting ink and paper by telling us how he frittered away each day? 

This could also be my last opportunity to point out how bizarrely-written this "confession" is.  When you're writing a diary about your plots of revenge or whatnot, you could be excused for ending one day's entry with "I've got you now, Bon Jovi!" only to follow with "somehow Bon Jovi had slipped out of my clutches!"  But this is all being written at once, with the benefit of hindsight.  It's a bit strange to write "Heller was dead!" instead of "I thought Heller was dead, but of course was mistaken because I'm terrible,"or "I've got you now, Countess Krak!" instead of "I thought I had the Countess Krak but really ought to have known better."

In short, Gris is somehow remembering with near-perfect recall how he felt every step of his months-long journey of depravity and failure. 

And so this is my narrative. I give it to you, Lord Turn. I do not know another blessed thing.
Be lenient.

But please don't turn me out.

Just execute me quickly!

SOLTAN GRIS 

Attested that the foregoing was confessed by said prisoner:

Gummins
Tower Guard, Royal Prison

Scritch
Life Prisoner, adjacent cell


So Gris wants to be executed quickly, but is stalling for time by writing a long-ass "confession."

Aaand that's it for Gris.  He's out of the story (for now, at least) and no longer has any way of telling us what's going on.  But Heller and Friends are still out there fighting the Royal fight against the forces of riffraff.  How are we, the reader, going to know how this epic struggle ends?

Why, we'll get us a new narrator, of course!


Back to Part Sixty-Six, Chapters Five and Six