Monday, March 17, 2014

Part Ninety, Envoi I-i - The Beginning of the Stuff After the End

I've never read a book with an "envoi" at the end of it,  I'm only familiar with the odd epilogue serving as a story's final chapter.  According to Wiktionary, an envoi is "a short stanza at the end of a poem, used either to address a person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem."  Somehow Hubbard interpreted this to mean "a hundred pages of stuff I couldn't fit elsewhere and the reader doesn't really need to know."

And thus we're back with Monte Pennwell, a pampered aristocratic brat who we met whining about his looming arranged marriage and unfulfilled literary ambitions, before he blundered into the Mission Earth cover-up and decided to blow the lid off it.  Now we rewind to... or fast-forward from where we were, or... okay, this is what happens when you jump around chronologically in the framing device you've wrapped around another framing device describing century-old events.  Monte is adding anecdotes about his investigation into Mission Earth, after he finished telling us the story of Mission Earth, and long after he started telling us the story of how he found the story of Mission Earth two books ago.

Anyway, Hightee Heller spent two weeks helping Monte assemble and make copies of records and logs, which is to say she spent "most of her time rambling around old haunts on Manco" while Monte whined about how hard he worked.  Now wait a minute, you might ask, didn't we just read about how Mission Earth was supposed to be covered up?  When Hightee met Monte in Disaster she surmised, and he admitted, that he got into the Apparatus' files, and of course the Apparatus was up to its neck in Earth's pollution.  Hightee was caught up in the Apparatus' plot, nearly killed, and helped bamboozle the simple-minded Voltarians into forgetting Earth existed.  Why would she help Monte uncover things she helped bury?

Shut the hell up, replies the author.

Hightee has to go back to Voltar for its annual Hightee Heller Day celebrations, which makes me gag a little.  So Monte gets shipped off to the estates of the Duke and Duchess of Manco, which "embrace" a mountain range and stretch of fertile plains, a chunk of primo real estate that Monte helpfully tells us is fully three times the size of New York.  It is of course Atalanta, the fabled homeland of Prince Caucalsia, who would go on to settle Earth and whose descendents would degenerate into the likes of Sigmund Freud, only to be saved by the selflessness of one of their lost cousins.  Earth's epic has come full circle, and is all poetic and junk.  This also makes me gag a little.

Monte just so happens to arrive at the Rose Park... of the estate, I guess, right when the Countess Krak exits a salon, and we're told that despite being a grandmother she's still tall and blonde and beautiful enough to make Monte tongue-tied.  She's also dressed in leather, but we're not told how, which is odd for an author willing to waste so many words on descriptions of outfits and locations that have no effect on the plot.  Could it be that now, at the end, Hubbard is running out of words?

Krak greets Monte warmly and takes him inside, and she talks about all the shenanigans her youngest, seven-year-old grandson is getting into - the little scamp tried to drown himself in a homemade boat, just like his grandpappy.  There's paintings of Heller and Krak's spawn all over the walls: two sons who went through the Royal Academy (one's a governor on Manco), a third son is a "speed flier," their daughter is some sort of actress because women are only good for their bodies, and they have six grandchildren besides.  Monte doesn't pay much attention, and I empathize with him. 

Eventually he's able to start his interview, to clear up some of the very important questions that the story we've read so far left unanswered.  The first is "Could you tell me what happened to Mister Calico?"

This is gonna be a long envoi.

Krak laughs at this profoundly stupid question, whistles, and a calico cat comes charging out of nowhere to leap into her lap.  Then she switches emotions to "sad" and tells the story of Señor Calico's horrible death: ten years after Mission Earth, Heller was taking a hike in the nearby mountains, when a mothercrunching lepertige came right out of nowhere, and of course Herr Calico obeyed his feline instincts and jumped on a ton-sized alien predator.  The lepertige's pelt decorates the very room they're sitting in, while Mister Calico was presumably given a closed-casket funeral.

But remember that Krak brought a bunch of other cats home with her, and she explains that every generation, a feline is born that inexplicably answers to Mister Calico "without ever being told" - she's currently holding Mister Calico number ten.  So isn't that magical.  She also jokes that ever since she introduced cats to Manco "there isn't a single vermin left in the province," hinting at widespread ecological destruction brought about by her frivolous decision to have cute furry psychopaths around.

The next question is marginally less trivial, and Monte asks about the five ships Faht Bey led to Calabar from Earth.  Krak says they all arrived safely, worked for a bit, and retired home.  Faht Bey went back to Flisten with his Turkish wife and half-Turkish daughter.  If you remembered who Faht Bey was without checking somewhere, good for you.

Question three is actually not stupid at all: Monte wonders about the consequences of Heller's great criminal amnesty and prison opening.  Krak tells him that only one percent of the released or pardoned prisoners were ever apprehended and executed for a second offense, so there was in fact a great "period that was almost crimeless."  There haven't been any crime waves since - somehow pardoning one batch of criminals prevented any subsequent lawbreakers from arising.  They were even able to clean up Slum City.  So there's your solution to high crime rates, folks.

Finally, Monte inquires about the fate of Izzy Epstein, which I think is a step backwards.  Krak looks at him a little strangely, but shrugs and sends a minion to fetch a metal box which she takes some select papers from.  Then she takes them back, and gives him some old pieces of "translating paper," because of course Monte can't read English.  I don't think this "translating paper" is some sort of high-tech yet flimsy device that decrypts whatever's written on it, so I guess Voltar has a special brand of stationary they use when copying text from one language to another.

The chapter ends just before Monte is able to read about Izzy, which I guess is like a cliffhanger.  It's not terribly exciting, and nothing's at stake.  At most you might be mildly annoyed that your eyes have to move a bit further than usual as you continue to read.  But we're past the climax now, and excitement is in short supply.

Back to Part Eighty-Nine, Chapters Four and Five

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