Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hubbard the Feminist

It's kinda odd, but despite Hubbard's use of flat, stock characters like the Mad Scientist, Bloodthirsty General, Corrupt Businessman, and so forth, he never seems to hit upon the great archetypes of storytelling.

I was wondering if I could classify the female characters in Mission Earth based on some neat old tropes.  First there's the Three Faces of Eve, a trio consisting of an innocent "child," level-headed "wife," and predatory "seductress."  We can fit Hightee Heller into the "child" role, and Teenie (despite being a child herself) can be reluctantly assigned the "seductress," but is any female character in the books steady or wise?  Hightee's probably the least psychopathic, but then who would we call the "child?"  Or is Krak the "seductress" because she's so predatory?  She may be faithful to Heller, but she certainly rapes a lot of minds over the course of the books.

An alternative trinity is the Hecate Sisters, which should be familiar to any Pratchett fans as "the maiden, the mother, and the... other one."  The young "maiden" is either naive or beginning to discover her sexuality, the curvy, middle-aged "mother" tends to be a bit odd, and the wizened old crone "other one" is often bitter and sharp-tongued.  But again, none of the characters fit these roles.  Krak is simultaneously naive and vicious, Teenie is young but warped and jaded beyond her years, the Widow Tayl is old but a nymphmaniac, and so forth.  So kudos, Hubbard, for breaking convention and inventing (bleeped)-up characters we don't have categories to describe.

Of course, the bigger problem is picking Mission Earth's three "main" female characters, because you'd have to be pretty generous with your definition of "main" to find more than one.

Krak may be the only lady in the story that has any sort of agency, and takes independent actions that affect the plot.  The first time I read The Invaders Plan I assumed that upon meeting Heller, the Countess Krak was instantly reduced from a dangerous but capable character to a clone of Jonnie's girlfriend... Christie, I think?  Whossername, the girl from Battlefield Earth who didn't do anything but get captured and love Jonnie unconditionally for some reason.  I was totally wrong, though: while Krak does get captured as part of a bad guy's attempt to stop Heller, she spends even more time (on Earth, anyway) doing stuff, namely using advanced alien technology and her utter lack of scruples to kick down arbitrary obstacles like Miss Simmons and thus advance the plot.  She does demur to Heller in most cases, and seems to look forward to the time she can cease her independent existence and become a good, servile 1950's housewife, but when Krak thinks her boyfriend's "honor" and "integrity" are wasting time, she gets stuff done.  Yes, she has severe jealousy issues, and yes, she's a soulless bitch willing to doom an entire planet so she can get married sooner than later.  But at least she does stuff.

Contrast her with the other important female introduced in The Invaders Plan, Heller's sister Hightee, whose characterization consists of the following: 1) she's a movie star, and 2) everybody loves her, I mean really loves her, she's practically worshiped.  That's about it.  She seems nice, I guess - anyone willing to go on a double date with Soltan Gris has to have a pretty big heart - but other than that you can just see the timer over her head counting down to her inevitable capture by the villains.  The most remarkable thing about her is that it took until Book Nine for that to happen.  Also, I don't remember any mention of her having a boyfriend, and even a hundred years later when Monte was doing his research she was still using the Heller surname.  Is there any evidence she has a life outside of Homeview and being Heller's sibling?

A third notable woman in Mission Earth is Babe Corleone, the mob boss who is always described as being amazon-like, so that you get the feeling Hubbard finds tall women exotic instead of just tall.  I guess she's the story's "mother" figure in that she's constantly having young "Jerome" fed various snacks or healthy meals, plus she is quick to pretty much adopt him.  But I don't think mothers are supposed to desecrate a corpse as part of a "Black Mass," or y'know, be mob bosses.  You might think the latter fact would make her a strong female character, but nope, Babe is a former high-kicking chorus girl who married into a mob family, took over after her husband's death, and was doing such a poor job at it that she was losing to Hubbard Villains, bad guys who are literally so stupid that they'll kill themselves if you wait long enough.  All of her successes in the mob wars come at the hands of Heller, who practically gives her control of New York City, which is somehow a good thing.

It's hard to think of a justification for Babe's existence, beyond Hubbard having a thing for mobster stories.  Heller's connection with her gives him a place to stay for a few books, and leads to him recruiting Bang-Bang as a henchman, and I guess her mob's support was vital so Heller could capture that building in Disaster and hold the police chief hostage so he could get the guy to recall the five officers guarding Heller's office.  But it was Heller's link to Izzy and his ability to cheat the stock market and make buttloads of money that ultimately won the day, and gave him the legal and business acumen to take over the Rockecenter cabal.  So Babe's mostly there for flavor.

And then... there's Teenie.  The big question here is "why?!"  Why would an insightful "satire," romantic thriller, or humorous spy novel need an underage nymphomaniac?  We've already seen characters like "Torpedo" the Necrophiliac Hitman as evidence of how psychology perverts innocent criminals, so Teenie would be redundant if psychology actually played a part in her nymphomania - except her oft-revised backstory suggests her abusive parents were to blame for that.  You might even be able to justify her existence with how she exports Earth's decadence to the wholesome, idyllic society on Voltar, except Crobe turns out to be more effective in using psychology to make Voltarians obsessed with sex.  The only other argument for Teenie's inclusion is the role she plays in helping Madison take over Voltar, a flimsy argument considering that Madison really shouldn't have needed her help, and all she did was use her control over some pages to help Madison film a minutes-long TV piece.

So why is Teenie in the story?  Probably the same reason Gris has so much dub- and non-con sex, and impregnates so many women - the author wrote his kinks into his epic sci-fi romance action espionage satire.  Throw in the stuff about Hubbard being served by underage "messenger" girls and it's a real shame he died before he could meet Chris Hansen.

Other female characters of note... well, like I said, there's the sex-crazed Widow Tayl, who is necessary to the plot because she has a hospital in her backyard for Gris to use because the Apparatus doesn't have one good enough for surgical implantation of neural monitoring equipment, and she helps Madison get Gris convicted like Teenie wanted in exchange for helping Madison get the pages to let him make a movie for Lombar.  There's Meeley, an old hag who hates Gris, so she's in other words another way to make Gris miserable.  There's Utanc, who - ahah, oops!

Uh... there's Nurse Bildirjin, underage and sexually-active, a pre-Teenie Teenie if you will.  Candy and Pinchy, masochists cured of their lesbianism through the power of rape.  Miss Simmons, a sexually-repressed professor who after getting her brains scrambled by Krak learns to embrace her gang-rape fantasies.  The girls at the Gracious Palms, all prostitutes.  Mary Schmeck, a sympathetic, sexually-exploited drug addict who dies a handful of chapters after being introduced and gets maybe one or two mentions afterward.  That... what was her name, something Boomp?  The woman Krak befriended on her plane ride from Turkey?  And she ended up in control of Atlantic City, I think?  She sure was memorable, eh?  The psychologist lady with a beef with Rockecenter because he didn't marry her.  And the unsubtly-named Cun and Twa, who wanted to get in Madison's pants.

Or as Frank Miller would say, whorewhoreswhoreswhores.

So, to wrap things up - L. Ron Hubbard's portrayal of women in Mission Earth is a wee bit troubling.  The overwhelming majority of his female characters exist to have sex with his male characters, willing or not, and occasionally when they're younger than they should be for such behavior.  The only ones to be in something resembling a healthy relationship are Babe Corleone, who is a mob boss and a widow, and the Countess Krak, who is a sociopath.  The obvious outlier is Hightee Heller, who is so damn immaculate that I had to check Wikipedia to see if Hubbard had a sister.

One last note on Krak - her main function in the story, when she isn't being kidnapped, is to handle things Heller has too many scruples to deal with, behind his back and through whatever means necessary.  I can't help but wonder whether this reflects Hubbard's attitudes towards his third wife Mary Sue, who went to prison for conspiracy charges, while he was only labeled an "unindicted co-conspirator."  Maybe this is his way of insisting that "no, see, I'm an honorable Navy officer with no aptitude for deception, all this conspiracy stuff is her doing."

Or in other words, Mission Earth isn't so much a work of satire as it is Hubbard's attempt to rewrite reality.

Back to Éminence Gris 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Éminence Gris

In a sense, Soltan Gris has the opposite problem of Jettero Heller.

It's quite easy to describe Gris, as not only is the figurative camera hovering near him for the majority of Mission Earth, unlike Heller the author lets us know what Gris is thinking.  We are shown his appreciation for and faith in psychology, as well as his paradoxical awareness that the discipline exists only to abuse people.  We know that Gris finds it odd when Heller declines to take advantage of a perfectly good rape opportunity, and is generally befuddled by Heller's honor code and basic human decency.  We've seen how Gris hatches and executes his plans, i.e. he sincerely hopes that a particular outcome will occur based on his misconceptions about others' behavior, and then watches in increasing bafflement as that does not happen.  He's cowardly, deceptive, greedy, lazy, and pretty stupid. 

This makes Gris the best developed character in Mission Earth, but I can't say with confidence whether he undergoes any character development.  There are those chapters where Gris ends with a dramatic "____ WAS INSANE!" revelation, but he keeps following Lombar and Rockecenter's orders instead of trying to escape the sinking ship with all the other rats.  Whenever he tries to psychoanalyze someone else he always fails, and as mentioned previously he's aware that psychiatry doesn't really work, but he never loses faith in it.  He only ditches the Apparatus when his boss tries to kill him, and doesn't so much repent of his wicked deeds as he does confess them in an attempt to get a mercifully quick death.  There doesn't seem to be any difference between the Soltan Gris who was first assigned to Mission Earth and the one who wrote about his experiences in a prison cell, other than in personal fortune and circumstance.

Again, this doesn't in itself ruin the book, since not every cast member can be both well-developed and have a character arc.  It'd be nice if a main cast member did, but that may be expecting too much from this author.  The bigger issue is that Gris, like Heller, is miscast for the role he serves in the story.

Telling a story from the perspective of a bad guy can be a refreshing change of pace.  Rather than watching yet another CSI team solve a murder, we can watch that Dexter guy plan and execute some, and not feel guilty because he picks on worse guys.  After spending so many hours blowing away TIE Fighters from the cockpit of your X-Wing, popping in a new game that gives you the chance to do the reverse is quite refreshing, not to mention challenging.  So a spy story told from the perspective of the guy trying to stop James Bond or whoever from saving the day ought to be interesting.  We could see what it's like to build and maintain a criminal empire, the process that goes into designing death traps, or how it feels when your evil mistress is seduced by and defects to the good guy.

Unfortunately, Gris is no Blofeld.  Hell, he's not even a Dr. Evil.  Lombar Hisst is the one who built and runs the criminal empire, Gris is just a mid-ranking bureaucrat within it.  We see him plot and scheme, and while Gris has the odd success of blowing up an electronics store to cover his tracks or smuggling a load of gold to Earth for his personal use, it's quickly and achingly clear that Gris stands no chance of stopping Heller, and not just because Heller has the power of plot on his side.  Gris is an incompetent bad guy who struggles to get his henchmen to do what he wants, constantly shoots himself in the foot with rash and badly-thought-out decisions, spends long sections of the story struggling to find "INSPIRATION!" for what to do next, and spends even longer parts of the book utterly ignoring the guy he's supposed to be stopping.

Having seen the same thing with Terl in Battlefield Earth, my working hypothesis is that Hubbard suffers from a condition that I've heard Ayn Rand struggles with as well: the author knows what is right and what is wrong, and is so fervent in his conviction, and considers this righteous path so obvious, that anyone who deviates from it is therefore an idiot.  After all, how could you believe that Freud was right and everything in life is about sex, or that newspapers are earnestly informing the masses with unbiased information, if you weren't a drooling imbecile?  And since the author's heroes embody the Right Path, and the villains oppose them, the villains must therefore be incredibly stupid.  This leads to a problem when we're expected to believe that people who shouldn't be able to make breakfast without burning their house down have nevertheless managed to engineer a vast government conspiracy.

The result is that we're saddled with an exceptionally stupid narrator for much of the book, and get to watch our viewpoint character fail again and again, in many cases without his target having to be so much as aware of his schemes.  Again, I maintain that there is no such thing as a totally worthless premise, and this sort of situation could work with a cartoon or slapstick comedy.  If Gris were a cartoon cat and Heller a mouse, we could get something that at least ought to keep a preschooler distracted for five minutes.  But Tom & Jerry cartoons usually don't feature sadomasochistic torture sessions, rape or murder.

That's the thing, Gris isn't so much about being the villain as he is about being villainous.  I've already rambled about how Gris doesn't qualify as the main bad guy of Mission Earth, and just mentioned that he doesn't spend all that much time actively opposing Heller.  But he does do a lot of very bad things - immediately upon arriving on Earth he terrorizes his villa staff, then he orders a sex slave.  Gris smuggles in gold to make himself rich so he can make some frivolous purchases, and literally wastes a month in the back seat of his limousine with what he thinks are paid whores.  And then there's that wonderful vengeful rape sequence in New York that ends with Gris spending chapter after chapter deprogramming lesbians with his penis.  Heller's sort of doing stuff in the background, but the story is very much about Gris having a lot of dubiously consensual sex.

And this leads to an obvious question - why?

The purpose of the Gris sections can't be to tell the story of a spy drama from the other side, because Gris barely does that - he does sneaky spy stuff, but only intermittently opposes Heller, and a lot of this "sexy" garbage is completely unrelated to the main plot.  So is Hubbard writing it for our benefit?  Does he think that when we pick up a book with "hilariously satirical look of society" on the back cover, we want to read about a guy raping women?  And what does that say about his impression of us, if we're expected to enjoy looking through the perspective of a villainous idiot?

Or is Hubbard writing it for his own amusement?  He could've written the book as the Journal of Jettero Heller, after all, keeping it first-person for the hero's perspective and third person for the villain.  He could've had Heller uncover Gris' actions after the fact and be horrified at the number of women he brutalized, rather than letting us watch Gris exult that his next victim is also a virgin, for the moment.  But instead he spent most of the series writing from Gris' perspective as he performed his loathsome crimes, and kept arranging things so that his viewpoint bad guy got have a lot of sex.  Hell, of all the villains Gris is the only one who escapes justice, as he ends up punished, or perhaps "punished," with a lifetime as someone's sex toy, while all the others are killed off in various stupid ways. 

Hubbard certainly seemed to have more enthusiasm for the Gris portions of Mission Earth - compare those chapters, with an internal monologue and pointlessly rich descriptions, to the dry, mechanical portions focusing on Heller while he performs his action scenes.  Now, maybe Hubbard was tired after writing seven books from Gris' point of view, or maybe he couldn't get as much from a third-person perspective.  But consider that even when Gris was taken out of the story, rather than switching his primary focus to Heller, Hubbard continued to follow around bad guys like Madison as they fell in and out of Sexy Times.

If you're at all familiar with Hubbard's official biographies and what kind of persona he and his devotees try to construct for us, it's readily apparent that Jettero Heller represents the sort of hero Hubbard wants us to root for, and probably what he imagines himself to be.  Heller is a daring and decorated naval officer, an ace pilot, a fearless explorer, an impeccable interior decorator, an incorruptible good guy who cuts through webs of deception with his own decency, and so forth.  And Hubbard can't write the guy half as well as he can Gris.

If you're at all familiar with Hubbard's unofficial biographies, or even if you've simply gone through his Wikipedia article to read about his crimes and controversies, it's readily apparent that Soltan Gris represents the sort of person Hubbard despises, yet bears an uncanny resemblance to.  Gris is paranoid, scheming, vengeful, corrupt, self-serving, greedy, cruel, abusive, manipulative, perverse, and pretty misinformed about the things he rants about.  I'm reminded of Punch magazine's review of Battlefield Earth, which noted how the book's author displayed an "excellent understanding of evil impulses, particularly deviousness, which helps with the plot, and [he] is well-enough aware of his weaknesses not to dwell upon frailties like love, generosity, compassion."

Gris is the initial "star" of Mission Earth, the author's inadvertent avatar, the one character Hubbard makes an effort to flesh out, and the one he can write the best.  Yet Gris is still awful, his sections drag down the plot, and nothing about him can salvage the story.  So if you can't accomplish anything with the character you most identify with and most enjoy writing about, what does that say about you as an author?

Back to Who is Jettero Heller?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Who is Jettero Heller?

Credit where it's due, Jettero Heller at least passes the Plinkett test - and if you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and go watch an hour-long vivisection of The Phantom Menace.

Back?  Good.  Like I was saying, we at least have a notion of Heller's character.  He's supremely self-assured and even-tempered, and it takes something like a threat to his loved ones or psychology/PR to really shake him up or piss him off.  He never worries about the future but always has something to pull out of his ass to solve whatever trouble he lands in.  He's charming and witty, or meant to be, and gets along superbly with anyone who isn't a bad guy.  Yes, Heller's not at all like those guys from Episode I... which means that at the end of their careers, L. Ron Hubbard came out better at building characters than George Lucas.  Wow.

Here's the trick, though: am I talking about Heller before or after his trip to Earth?

Mission Earth ought to have been a pretty life-changing experience for him, even if Heller was already a veteran space commando.  He was forced to live in a primitive society where evil drug-pushing psychologists taught everyone that they were soulless homosexuals, a man's life could be destroyed by whatever lies were printed on a sheet of paper, and the government was controlled by a dilapidated codger obsessed with watching his secretaries pee.  Then Heller came home and found that the same sickness has spread to his own civilization, and uncovered the rotting foulness at the heart of his government.  He nearly lost his fiancee and dear sister, mmmwhatchusay.  Yet the only real differences between Jettero Heller in the dungeons of Spiteos in Book One and the Duke of Manco in his mansion in Book Ten are in terms of glory and wealth.

Another thing to consider is what we know about Heller.  We can see he's a good fighter and pilot from the books' action scenes.  We know he doesn't worry too much because Krak kept pestering him until he explained that if space commandos worried about every potential danger they'd never stop, those daring rascals.  We know that he's charming and witty through his interactions with other characters.

What we don't know is much about how Heller thinks or feels.  Sure, we see him decrying the soulless teachings of Earth in Book Two, or giving Izzy that lecture about Life the Universe and Everything in Book Three - but we don't have any sense of Heller's spirituality, his own views of the soul, any of that.  We can see that Heller is respectful towards Royalty through his interactions with Royalty, but not what he really thinks of his sovereigns beyond that they need to be rescued and restored to power.

In Book Nine there's that big chapter where Heller and Prince Mortiiy are having their meeting on a snowy mountain, where Heller is trying to recruit a rebel prince to overthrow the government of his homeworld.  Does Heller have any doubts about this violent malcontent coming to power?  Does he have any guilty questions about the feasibility of the monarchy if this is the type of person who could inherit the throne?  Lingering senses of treason?  If so, we don't see them - the chapter is nothing but a shouted conversation in the wind and cold, where the narration only describes what the actors do and say, not what goes on within their heads.

Or in other words, even when Heller's the focus of the narration, even when he's our viewpoint character, even when Gris isn't the one relaying Heller's actions to us thanks to that bugging equipment, we rarely if ever see Heller's point of view.  Jettero Heller is a long list of achievements and actions with some human-like traits, but is otherwise a flat, static character.

Now, this is not necessarily a crippling flaw.  Sometimes you don't need well-rounded characters who develop over the course of the story.  I can't tell you much about Indiana Jones other than that he hates Nazis, kicks a lot of ass, and is good at improvisation.  And he's afraid of snakes.  Looks after kids.  Doesn't get spooked by dead chaps.  Thinks your country's ancient treasures belong in his museum.  Has issues with his dad.  Nice hat.  Not hugely religious, but can start to come around to the importance of stuff like the Holy Grail.  Somehow has tenure.  And - okay, look, Indiana Jones may have a little more depth than Jettero Heller, but he's just about as static, and remains largely defined by his actions, not thoughts or feelings.

But Indiana Jones is the star of action-adventures, a tomb raider who swings over chasms, outruns the angry natives, has fistfights in dangerous environments, and so forth.  Indy's a throwback to all those pulp serials and whatnot I'm too young to remember, and works really well as the star of the story he's in.

The problem is that Heller is also a throwback to those pulp serials, 'cause evidently that's all Hubbard knows how to do, except he's not in a pulp action-adventure.  He's in Mission Earth, which wants to be a funny sexy satire with cerebral spy drama and sharp political commentary.  When Heller's in his element, which is to say behind a wheel or flying a spaceship, he's just the sort of stuntman the story needs, a popcorn flick hero who can make the big explosions happen and fly off into the sunset while the credits play.

Unfortunately, that's only a very small portion of Mission Earth.  For the story's spy stuff, or the political commentary, Heller is woefully miscast - imagine Matt Damon strutting through the Bourne movies with an obnoxiously smarmy expression, never breaking a sweat as he defeats his foes and overcomes obstacles with laughable ease, all with nary a sign of inner turmoil or self-doubt*.  Heck, I wouldn't put Heller in the cheesier Bond flicks.

I think at some level Hubbard knew this, which is why Heller disappears for such long stretches of the story, despite the books' back covers treating him as the central character.  I have to ask, though - if your story is an examination of planet Earth through alien eyes, but you never get around to putting the "camera" "behind" those alien eyes, what's the point? 

* I haven't sat through any of the Bourne movies, so if Matt Damon actually does this in them, please disregard this comparison and substitute a better one.

Back to Starring..? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


So here's a question that, if you're an author, you don't want your readers to have to ask - who's the main character?

I've referred to Soltan Gris as a Villain Protagonist before, but I'm not so sure that's the best word for him.  He's certainly a villain, and for seven and a half books Gris is our viewpoint character, but that's not quite the same thing.  To Kill a Mockingbird is told from Scout's point of view, but is really about her father Atticus.  Part of the reason the Michael Bay Transformers movies are hated is because the hero is a robotic truck, yet the camera tends to stick to Shia LeBeouf, who as a human is somewhat out of place in a story named after robots that can change into vehicles.

More than that, protagonists are supposed to do things, and antagonists are supposed to stop them.  But Gris spends huge chunks of the series very much not doing anything, or at least anything related to the plot.  When his superiors leave enough death threats, or if Gris runs out of other things to do, occasionally he does his job of trying to stop Heller.  Technically, the antagonist is defined as someone who opposes the protagonist, so in theory we could have a criminal protagonist opposed by a law-enforcing antagonist.  But I think a better definition is that the protagonist is trying to accomplish something - dump a ring in a volcano, blow up the tyrant's superweapon - while the antagonist is an obstacle to that.  The protagonist generally seeks to alter the status quo, the antagonist to preserve it.

You could still have a villain protagonist under this definition, such as that Dexter fella, who as I understand is trying to sate his homicidal tendencies by killing other bad guys, while the heroic antagonist police try to stop his vigilantism.  But Gris, who is definitely a villain, is trying to preserve the starting situation on Earth and in the Confederacy.  The actions he takes are aimed at stopping Heller's disruptions.  Or have nothing at all to do with Heller or the plot.  It's about a 50-50 spread, I think. 

So by this Gris would be the Villain Antagonist who just happens to be a viewpoint character, but while Gris is clearly a villain, is he really the villain?  The very notion is laughable - Gris is an incompetent underling of the power-mad, and regular mad, Lombar Hisst.  This might not be so bad, since the Big Bad's chief henchman is often cooler than the story's main villain, as seen with Darth Vader.  Except Gris isn't that guy either, he's constantly threatened by other Apparatus enforcers, and just as subordinate to Rockecenter when he's on Earth.  Gris doesn't even accomplish much of anything, either.  All his anti-Heller efforts are thwarted, and his biggest impact on the plot is when he brings Krak to Earth in a panic and ships Madison and Teenie off to Voltar in another panic.  Hell, Gris spends part of Book One broke and starving to death.  More than that, Gris can't be the story's principal villain because he's stopped eight books into it, and spends the rest of the story in a jail cell.  Arguably the Madison-Teenie team is the story's biggest bad, since it allows Lombar his near-victory and in fact comes to manipulate him along with everyone else.  Maybe Mission Earth's true villains are psychology and PR in general.

All this to say, Gris is only a mid-grade villain on the bad guys' totem pole, and doesn't do enough to be labeled the principal protagonist or antagonist.  So maybe Heller's the main character then, since most of the story is about trying to stop him.

Except Heller's not in half the story.  Gris is the POV character for seven and a half books, and frequently loses interest in observing Heller for weeks at a time, getting lost in the woods or sidetracked by a belly dancer or whoring it up in Turkey or rehabilitating lesbians in New York and so forth.  Heller has his time to shine in the latter half of Disaster, but only shows up for a few chapters during Villainy Victorious, which is mainly about Madison, and only about a third of The Doomed Planet, which is also split between Madison and Monte Pennwell.  Heller is of course intended to be the story's "good guy," and it's his efforts that fix everything for the happy ending, but while he's probably the protagonist, it feels strange to label him the main character, especially since even if the POV is on him, we barely get to hear his thoughts or feelings.

And that's another important aspect of the main character - we're supposed to emphasize with him or her, root for them.  But Gris is utterly unlikeable, and as just mentioned Heller is aloof and distant even when the camera's aimed right over his shoulder.  The only way anyone could root for Gris is when Heller's giving one of his obnoxious speeches about what's wrong with Earth, but Heller is just as hard to identify with, for reasons I'll get into more when I focus on his character or lack thereof.  So if I don't want Gris to win, but never develop an attachment for Heller, who am I supposed to focus on?  What's my stake in the story?

I guess it's sort of impressive that Hubbard managed to create a story that's largely about a low-ranking bureaucrat's occasional half-assed attempts to stop a stunt man who shows up for a few action scenes but otherwise sits the books out.  Way to break literary conventions, dude.

Back to the summation

Thursday, April 3, 2014

One Mission Ends, Another Continues

To be blunt, Mission Earth is shit.

It's a story of sorts, with characters and some semblance of a plot, but they're all soaked in bile and acid, bleached of any positive qualities until there's nothing left but bare bones and foulness.  The book is an offensive, noisome mess that should be disposed of far from polite company, rather than put on a bookshelf for others to see.  The idea that someone could be proud of producing it is worrisome, the notion that any audience would eagerly consume it is horrifying.

But sometimes, shit has its uses.  If you're willing to hold your nose and gingerly pick through it, you might learn some things from it, about the world it came from, and what went through the person who excreted it.  If nothing else, you might be able to spread it in a garden, turning reeking refuse into something productive.

So that's the next phase of Mission Spork.  I'll be making irregular posts looking back on the series, examining went wrong in the story as a whole rather than in particular chapters, or what's wrong with the characters in it.  If nothing else we might learn more about what was in the head of the man who wrote it, and maybe through this amateur literary criticism we can learn what not to do if we wanted to write a non-shit story, so that even Mission Earth's many failures can be put to good use.

As for what comes after that, we'll see when we get there.

Back to the last chapter

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Part Ninety-Two, Envoi III-xxii (concluded) - The True and Final End (to Sanity)

Following that "(TRIUMPHANT) END!" we get the last components of the final chapter.  If you had any surviving verisimilitude, any precariously-suspended disbelief remaining, bid it a fond farewell.

I don't think companies normally publish books that contain, for an epilogue, the author throwing a bitch-fit at his publishers, or those publishers' reply.  But that's just what happened - Monte included instructions to print his angry letter right after "THE (TRIUMPHANT) END," demands which were inexplicably honored. 



GENTLEMEN (though I am certain there is not one in the shop!):

I have just received back for author's approval the edited copy of my book.


I am so angry, I have never been so angry!

I hardly know how to start screaming at you!

In an amazing example of Hubbard's prescience, this part reads very much like an enraged Facebook post by a barely-literate 6th grader, just with far less profanity.

First of Monte's gripes is the fact that his publishers "changed the name of every single Lord in this book!", as well as the alias Heller used on Earth, and even Monte's name.  I think this was an attempt by Hubbard to save his bacon - maybe even he realized that character names like Captain Stabb or General Maul or Colonel Evilbadguy might be pushing it, or that Pennwell was rather convenient a last name for someone new to writing. 

Except we're only explicitly told that the names of the noble Voltarians, and Heller's alias, were changed.  If we take this at face value, it means there really was a pirate captain named Stabb, or sex-positive women with the suspiciously appropriate monikers of Cun and Twa.  If we are overly generous and conclude that perhaps all the Voltarian names have been changed, this makes little sense as the Apparatus dregs would have no reputations to protect, and looking up the "real" name of Lombar Hisst ought to be a matter of public record - at any rate, looking back at the Censor's Foreword in Book One reveals that Heller, Krak, Gris, Cling, and Mortiiy's names haven't been altered.  And also that there are "The Earthmen Are Coming" clubs, but hold that thought.

And then there's the matter of the Earth names - why would the publishers disguise Heller's Earth identity if the official line is that the planet never existed?  Are they responsible for the godawful "satirical" names in the book, like the New York Grimes or American Meddle Association or Barvard, but again, why would they change the names of things that don't exist?  And why were they inconsistent, not changing the names of figures like Freud, or countries?  Even Monte states "It is a wonder to me that you didn't change the names of New York and Turkey!"

All this becomes much, much worse with a later revelation.

Anyway, Monte threatens to sue his publishers for a billion credits for meddling, then wastes about a page with stuff like




How dare you insert an introduction that REFUTES EVERYTHING!

How dare you infer that I am simply an IMAGINATIVE WRITER?

Oh, let me tell you, you're in REAL TROUBLE!

I have PROOFS!

before boasting that he has a "WHOLE FORTRESS" of documents and an "ARMY with FACTS!" ready to crush these deceivers.  And then Monte makes it personal, claiming that his investigation "made me into a MAN!" and how as soon as his book is published he'll be "doing my Earth thing" with that Har guy because his family is browbeating him into marrying Prince Corsca, which is why he needs to see his work published unaltered for the sake of his sanity.  I guess his argument is "you should do what I want because I'm having sex with this guy and feel really stressed" or something?

I suppose you are going to threaten me by saying you will publish this letter.  YOU ARE TOO SNIVELLING A PACK OF' COWARDS TO STAND UP.  I DARE YOU TO PUBLISH IT!

Aha!  Our explanation for why this highly unprofessional exchange has been included in the book - it was a dare.




Ladies and gentlemen, may I proudly present the very best sentence in all 4,156 pages of Mission Earth!

I've got to stop writing because this paper will CHAR from the intensity of my RAGE!

And back to the rant.

I am sending the manuscript back to you.  I am NOT going to work for DAYS and DAYS reverting these names to the real ones.  I am already worn out sweating for FREEDOM FROM DENYING US EARTH!

(Bleep) you!


So all that bitching and Monte ultimately gives up because he's just too tired.  He's furious, but not enough to keep up the argument.  Poor little guy.

The last ten pages of the story consist of Monte's publishers' reply to his rantings.  And by "publishers" I really mean Monte's Great Uncle Cuht, who along with some of his other relatives took a sudden interest in his project and bought up the publishing company Monte submitted his manuscript to.  What wacky family hijinks!

Cuht wonders why Monte would want to "defame" some of his noble relatives by mentioning them by name in conjunction with the whole Mission Earth nonsense, which is why many Lords' names were omitted from the story.  The editors can mess around like that 'cause Monte didn't read the fine print reserving the publisher's right to change the names of not just story characters, but the author of the book as well.  But they decided to publish Monte's letter bitching about these changes at the end of the book so that readers would know about the changes, rather than adding a much more tasteful little disclaimer at the beginning or end of the story.  Because Voltar is not good at mass media.

And then... I'm not sure why, but the author wants to leave us with a sense of mystery, a sort of "did any of it really happen?" wonderment.  Or maybe he just wants to torment Monte further.  Whatever the reason, Cuht spends several pages systematically arguing against Monte's "evidence" that Mission Earth really happened.

The drugs at Tayl Farm?  Brushfire swept through it.  The man Monte saw in the attic?  The place was being repainted.  Tayl herself, and her family?  Recently left on vacation for their jungle properties on the Southern Continent, and even though Voltarian communications technology can span 110 worlds in the Confederacy, this somehow makes Tayl and her family inaccessible to subpoenas or Royal investigators.  Krak and Hightee don't make such excuses, and merely hang up when called about Monte's investigation.

As for Gris, the Royal prison recently disposed of every last scrap of his "confession," because... anyway, it was witnessed by someone named Hound, but since "the name is common among yellow-men," it's probably not the same guy as Monte's valet.  "No proof."  And they've got Gris' body rotting in front of the prison at any rate, and they took the fingerprints that say it's really him.  Though the body is covered with preservative tar, and there's no way to tell how long he's been dead, and the justiciary misplaced those records... stop being suspicious!  There's no cover-up here!

There are no records of Crobe or Hisst at the gulag Monte visited, and the charred spot on the cliff is just where they burn trash.  Shafter lost all of Monte's notes and the original manuscript while driving over the Western Ocean with the windows down or something.  When some "sons of local publishers" were asked about Relax Island they became very angry about it and refused to cooperate, so there's probably nothing worth investigating.  There is a bunch of rocks where Monte claims he found Spiteos, but there's no sign of documents, and all the truck tracks... in a society with flying tanks... were made by landscaping equipment, and not, say, a bunch of Royal intelligence agents stripping the place bare.  And if the place had been full of documents, Monte could have gotten in trouble for failing to report them, so it's a good thing there weren't!

In short, there is no cover-up.  There couldn't have been, you see, because there is no evidence of anything remaining to have been covered up.

So, of course, your book only qualifies as a work of fiction and I am sure that you will be happy now on that point. 

There's no evidence of anything remaining to be covered up, but please ignore the evidence that anything was hastily covered up.

After this, Great Uncle Cuht takes a moment to chide Monte for not pursuing his stated intention of writing a biography about the fabulous Duke of Manco, who never tells anything to the encyclopedia people.  If Monte had only done what he said he was doing, he'd have surely gotten the fame and fortune he so desired, and certainly made his publishers very happy.

You see, as some experts on publishing advised them, very little is publicly known about the Duke of Manco, aside from the fact that everything goes smoothly when he is around.  The public only knows that when Mortiiy the Brilliant retired to Calabar sixty years ago and his son, Prince Wully, ascended the throne, Wully was promptly dubbed "Wully the Wise" because he never did a thing without consulting the Duke of Manco first.

I think the real message of Mission Earth isn't about psychology, or PR, but that we should all accept Jettero Heller as our personal lord and savior.

And then, after refuting Monte's claims by pointing out the suspicious lack of, or sudden disappearance of, his evidence, and after raising doubt that any of it really happened, the author/Uncle Cuht immediately negates the efforts of three and a half pages.  While chiding Monte about letting PR rot his brains, and hot on the heels of declaring that there was no Crobe or Hisst at that prison, nor a Gris at Tayl's estates, Cuht states that

It is not that you have not achieved something: the death of three men is not nothing.  It is a very good thing for you that two were insane and the third a notorious traitor: Otherwise you would, as a reward for your "PR study," be doing time in prison for willfully and knowingly hounding them to their deaths, contrary to the Anti-Harassment and Inviolability of Personal Privacy statutes introduced in the last century.  We could forget driving an eccentric old lady and her offspring into exile and you may, of course, be fatuous enough to believe that the betrayal of the Duchess of Manco and the almost deified Hightee Heller is something you can live down, but we believe this sudden assimilation of "PR technology" and your inexplicable use of such debased maliciousness could lead to self-harm and you should be warned to abandon it for your own good. 

He just... he went through all of Monte's evidence and argued why it didn't hold up.  He filed the events of the story under "nonfiction."  And then he admitted that Monte has caused the deaths of these people who he just told us did not exist or had already been executed.  And then he published this statement that refuted his refutation of Monte's evidence, and...

Do not, whatever you may be thinking or supposing, blame the Duke of Manco for anything you might think is going on.  Surprisingly, he feels sorry for you.  We showed him this manuscript and he read it in his rapid fashion and then simply sighed and said, "The poor fellow.  It got to him."

It was a very cryptic statement and we asked him his advice concerning the publishing plan.  But he merely chuckled and said, "Go ahead. It might wake them up."  An amazing man! 

So Heller did... he did the cover-up, but he okayed the publication... "wake them up."  Wake who up?!  What's the point of... why would you try to hide what happened, but then publish an investigation into it, including the letters at the end that indicated that all of the "fiction" was true?  And if Monte's using PR to become an investigative reporter, and PR is all about telling lies, why was he able to uncover the truth...

...and Cun... no, Cuht, Great Uncle Cuht.  Um, he says that while they've agreed to publish this incriminating let- this book of fiction, Monte's contract doesn't specify where or when.  So Lord Bis of the Intelligence Committee decided to wait until "the invasion of Earth, a blank spot on the invasion tables," had come and gone - n-not that Earth exists!  Or that the invasion tables were altered!  How could they alter the invasion timetables to remove a planet that never existed, haha!  Yeah, the plan is to just wait until that blank invasion time came and went, because of course it'd be impossible to go back and invade a planet past schedule.  Insane, even!  Stark raving mad!  

When that occurred, Lord Bis advised, we could send the book with one of the usual survey parties to the planet Earth and, through the auspices of publishing connections there, publish the book solely and only on the planet Earth.  And there was no need, in meeting the terms of the contract, to publish it on Voltar at all!

He commented that the population there would regard it just as a work of fiction and that it would not cause them to strengthen their defenses as, he says, the planet is "quite muddly," as he put it.

The brilliance of the solution becomes quite manifest when you realize, as he pointed out, that there is no Code break involved: The planet Earth does not exist, so it is outside the Space Code regulations!

So your book is going to be published after all. 

Yes!  Publish the book exposing the conspiracy of a galactic empire to conquer a planet that does not exist, on the planet that does not exist!  As fiction.  That way, the natives would not be confused!  Crystal clear!  They would not say to themselves, "wait, I don't remember the mafia taking over New York City, or all the worlds' countries turning into corporations, or a comet obliterating the Soviet Union."  Nor would they wonder how an alien manuscript traveled back in time a hundred years after all those things that never happened!  They would not wonder why the editors bothered to change the names of alien nobility, or which if any Earth names were altered, or why!  They could simply say "wow, this book is awful" and think no more on the matter!  Because thinking hurts.  Like jagged scrap metal caught in gears.  Ha.

Anyway.  Any.  Way.  Publishing a story that never happened on a planet that doesn't exist means that it's going to be quite difficult for Monte to get paid for any of this, and he's been broke ever since his mother cut off his allowance for becoming "a fairy or catamite."  But!  What luck!  The King's Own Physician has relayed a Royal order commanding that Monte marry Lady Corsca.  Did you know the Emperor can marry people?  Of course he can, you can't expect him to remain a bachelor all his life, can you?  

So Corsca's brothers will be coming with their lepertige nets to make sure Monte makes it to his wedding on Modon, very nice of them.  Corsca's quite a woman for being willing to put up with "certain deficiencies" in order to improve her family by marrying into the not-Pennwells.  And all those rustic walks will do Monte some good.

And, who knows, in fifty years, you might even get back to Voltar from Modon for a visit, although I would advise, even then, a disguise. 

Of course, hide the face, his disgrace, not because of what has been published - because who on Voltar will read it?  Monte's book is being published on a nonexistent planet, so none in the Confederacy will know about it, and start those "The Earthmen Are Coming" clubs that the Royal Censor talked about in the first book when he was denying that Earth existed.  And that makes sense - the clubs that can't exist are only talked about in the story that didn't happen that was published on the planet that isn't there!

No, Monte must hide his face, for word has surely gotten out that he broke a present meant for the Goddess Hightee Heller.  It is a wonder he hasn't been torn apart by angry fans by now.

So we are all agreed, then?  Fine.  I will see you at your wedding tomorrow.

Your Great Uncle
New Managing Director 
Biographies Publishing Company

And so, after Hubbard punishes his last voodoo doll by crushing his dreams and making him the unwilling husband of a rich woman, after introducing a plot hole that threatens to neatly swallow up everything he's written, after breaking logic's back and scrambling the brains of his readers with a spike of words applied underneath each eyelid, he tries to make amends with one sentence:


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