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 axeTo 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