The big glowing (presumably Manco) Devil looks impressive at first glance, at least. If you aren't familiar with the story you'd probably expect that the sharp-dressed dude enjoying a glass of fizzy next to his, uh, vehicle, is obviously backed by the incarnation of all evil, making him an unstoppable champion of darkness. But if you've read the previous books, and guess that the bland fellow can only be Soltan Gris (editor's note from the future: I should've remembered that every character in these books is blandly described compared to Heller and Krak), then you'd know about his tendency to hallucinate and build elaborate fictional worlds to inhabit, which suddenly makes the title and cover art rather ironic. It just goes to show how hard it is to look forward to Mission Earth if you've actually read any of it.
The back is topped with Orson Scott Card's comparison to Star Wars the last book went with. If Star Wars was like Mission Earth the first movie would've ended after Vader said "I have you now!" And we would've had Luke and Obi-Wan help Jabba the Hutt take over Mos Eisley so the Millennium Falcon could take off. And the ride to Mos Eisley would've taken an hour in itself.
The book summary reveals that Lombar Hisst has the "dreaded Apparatus Death Battalion poised for a pre-emptive strike on Earth," which makes sense to the degree that Earth hasn't attacked Voltar yet, but only because nobody on the planet knows Voltar exists. We're also told that Chief Lombar is "out of control" and "holds the fate of Earth and the entire Confederacy in his clenching hands," which would be more effective if I gave a flying (bleep) about the entire Confederacy, or indeed could name more than a half-dozen planets in it. Anyway, it's up to Heller to beat "incredible odds" and save both Earth and the empire in "this intergalactic game of double jeopardy," which is a legal term that sounds dramatic but doesn't actually apply to this situation. Unless Heller had previously been tried and acquitted for thwarting the Apparatus or something.
All the other blurbs on the back cover are recycled, but one or two past the front cover look new, or at least full versions of statements quoted in snippets earlier. Orson Scott Card assures us this book is "simply the most fun you can have by yourself." ...Nah, too easy. Ray Faraday Nelson also explains why the CIA will hate this book, because Hubbard's "laughing at the Sacred Cow of the Eighties, the so-called intelligence community." Now I was present for the last half of that decade, but too preoccupied with things like learning bladder control to really pay attention to world affairs. From what I've pieced together, it looks like American intelligence services were busy doing things like Iran-Contra and mucking about in Latin America to keep dictators in power so those nasty communists didn't take over; not particularly Good Guy behavior that the public would approve of. So it doesn't sound like a Sacred Cow situation to me, but maybe it was different when you were living in it.
Moving along. The usual "here's the list of Mission Earth books, buy and read them first!" command. Map of New York, dammit a map of Turkey, map of Voltar. "Also by L. Ron Hubbard" list, Mission Earth title page, a second list of Mission Earth books, a second Mission Earth title page.
The Censor and Translator's notes are both pretty brief - Lord Invay again mentions how the book has a new narrator and reminds us that planet Earth does not exist, 54 Charlee Nine says that his job's easier now that Monte Pennwell has taken over... wait. Charlee's happy that Monte speaks only Voltarian, but while Gris knows several Earth languages he was writing for a Voltarian. So what, he didn't translate his own testimony? Whatever, Charlee also updated the book's Key. Gris' landlady no longer appears on it, while Krak and Heller's butler Balmor does, for example.
We kick off Part Seventy-One with Monte Pennwell's letter to Biographics Publishing Company, the most specific printing house in the galaxy. He begins by assuring them that their names will, like his, be celebrated for all of history, then repeats his shock that a government would lie to its people about something like a planet's existence. Apparently he's sent in all of his story up to this point to see how they like it before continuing, which means he churned out eight books' worth of awful before deciding to check whether or not he was wasting his time. And before you ask, no this wouldn't have helped Hubbard, he had handlers who very carefully hid bad news, criticism and mocking laughter from him.
Monte recaps the major plot points: Earth was controlled by energy mogul Delbert John Rockecenter, Heller was sent to "de-pollute" the planet as part of mission intended to fail, given an identity as Rockecenter Jr. so he'd be an obvious target, but nevertheless survived and discovered the plot to take over the Confederacy with Earth-produced drugs. There's stuff about Mr. Bury and Heller becoming a consul for the African fabrication called Maysabongo, but here's the thing - Soltan Gris isn't so much as mentioned. The guy who was our narrator for seven and a half books, the guy's whose "confession" forms the bulk of Monte's text, is ultimately unimportant to the story! And yet, assuming my guess about the cover isn't entirely misplaced (editor's note from the future: it was), Gris should be making a reappearance in the near future. (editor's note from the future: near-ish)
Monte wraps up by recapping the two chapters we just read, Heller and Izzy and Twoey's confrontation with Rockecenter, and because the guy doing the recapping is also the narrator who described the events for us the first time, it's a lot like reading those chapters over again.
With the smile of a snake, Rockecenter agreed and the documents were signed--then the snake struck!
Except it was Bury, not the "snake," who drew the gun.
When the brief scuffle was over, Rockecenter's attorney Bury lay unconscious on the floor and a weaponless Heller was surrounded by army troops.
Rockecenter scooped up the papers that now gave him complete control and put them into a huge steel suitcase. He turned to a major general whose squad had its weapons turned on Heller and Izzy.
"General," said Rockecenter, "hold this riffraff until I return. Then, as we will be at war, we'll have work for a firing squad."
What? Has Heller lost everything?
Ugh, that just looks bad. What kind of dope abuses rhetorical questions like that?
Fear not! I, Monte Pennwell, Voltar's first, only and greatest investigative reporter, have the story!
I suppose the fact that Monte's supposed to be narrating excuses how incredibly dry the story has become, like we wouldn't expect him to know what Heller's internal reactions to these events were. But the fact that Monte is able to perfectly recall every action done or word spoken by other people a hundred years ago and twenty-three lightyears away kinda undermines this. And then there's something that will happen in a few chapters that makes the author's reluctance to share Heller's thoughts all the more baffling.
So, let's see how these books' mentally-defective villains are going to achieve their promised victory.
Back to an Intermission
Back further to Part Seventy, Chapters Six and Seven