Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Value of Mission Earth

I'm against banning books.  I'll happily miss out on outlawing a bad book for good reasons if it means I never have to worry about someone banning a good book for bad reasons.  Nevertheless, I'm sympathetic to the people of Dalton, GA, who in 1991 tried to get Mission Earth out of their public library due to "repeated passages involving chronic masochism, child abuse, homosexuality, necromancy, bloody murder, and other things that are anti-social, perverted, and anti-everything."  Well, not to say I agree that references to homosexuality make a book unsuited for public consumption.  Or that books that contain child abuse or violence should be banned.  Also, I think they meant necrophilia when they said necromancy.  And sadism instead of masochism, Gris got tortured a bit but didn't enjoy it.  Oh, and the people of Dalton, GA didn't specify the copious amounts of rape as an issue, that's kind of an odd oversight.  Wouldn't want to suggest that consensual gay sex is more problematic than non-consensual straight sex, eh? 

Getting distracted.  Point is, Mission Earth has little value as a work of literature.  The characters, the plot, the setting, everything that an author constructs when he or she writes a book, this book's author did badly.  It's a satire in that it attacks, mocks or slanders what the author dislikes, but for all the things the book is against it offers very little to fill that void - no spirituality to replace the soullessness of psychiatry, no culture to replace 1980's materialism.  The author has his good characters decry all the carnality and viciousness of the bad guys, but prefers to write from the villains' viewpoint and frequently puts the story on hold to revel in such perversions and violence.  The books' depictions of gender, sexual preference, and ethnicity are at best antiquated, and the methods the heroes use to accomplish their mission are worryingly authoritarian.  The overall message of Mission Earth is little more than a long list of all the things the author finds wrong with our planet and a hope that it will meet a grisly end, as delivered by Monte Pennwell's "Ode to Earth."

In short, Mission Earth sucks and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they just had to experience its awfulness firsthand, or were out of toilet paper.  There is nothing it does that another work out there doesn't do better... with one exception.

See, just because a book is a godawful, disgusting mess doesn't mean that it doesn't have value.  A book may fail to tell a story, but it can still tell you plenty of things about the person who wrote it.  And that is why Mission Earth is so important: it isn't a biography written by someone else based on facts, "facts," and conjecture, an attempt to construct a character based on how the world reacted to them, but a conduit into the mind of L. Ron Hubbard.

Through Mission Earth, we can see what Hubbard thought was wrong with the world, and how he thought we could fix it, which in this case is "psychology" and "banning psychology."  We can see what he considered heroic and what he felt was villainous, and the considerable overlap between the two.  We can see his sense of humor, which seems a pretty unsophisticated mix of people tripping on things, people getting food smeared on their faces, and names that are bad sex puns.  We can see his simultaneous abhorrence and fascination with sexual deviancy, more than we probably want to, in fact.  We see the world through his eyes and listen to his thoughts.

...To an extent.  It's important to remember that fiction writers regularly create worlds that they know do not exist, and that an author can write a rape scene because it fits the story, not because they enjoy a good rape.  The people who make action movies may not necessarily condone killing dozens of guys as a way to solve a problem.  Sometimes a creator doesn't even want to include things, but is talked into it by his or her editor or publisher.

Luckily, in this case Hubbard was quite insistent that his work was satirical, and had a guaranteed sales base that rendered him immune to criticism, so Mission Earth can be read as a more accurate gauge of his thinking than, say, Battlefield Earth.  On that note, the number of repeated motifs from his previous work - psychiatry as the cause of a society's downfall, a dismissive attitude towards government, racist undertones and sociopathic heroes - reinforces the notion that Mission Earth reflects the author's views.

Now of course we could do something similar with the works of Orson Scott Card, gleaning his stance on homosexuality or military service from Ender's Game and the like, but that isn't as significant.  Firstly because Card isn't shy when it comes to vocalizing his views, and more importantly because he didn't found his own religion.  Mission Earth therefore provides a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of a spiritual leader.  And it's disturbing.

If you had heard none of the controversy, accusations, and documented crimes surrounding Scientology, and were approaching the movement with a completely open mind, if you read Mission Earth first, would you take another step further?  Would you be interested in the spiritual advice of someone who gave us thousands of pages of Soltan Gris scheming, murdering and raping?  Would you accept lectures on ethics from a man who had his heroes mind control those who opposed them?  Would you want to hear how the universe works from a guy who thought Nazi psychologists used PR to take over America?  Would you be instructed on how to do good from someone who seems to only understand evil?

It's sort of like finding a primitive novel that Jesus wrote in his mid-20s that turned out to be mostly sex, violence, and accusations that the Roman Empire was secretly controlled by atheist Abyssinian apothecaries.  Yeah, you might brush it off as a phase or something, or say that just because someone wrote execrable literature doesn't mean that they can't be touched by the divine when they give a sermon.  But it's hard to reconcile stuff like "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" with "you're a virgin too?  Great, I'll rape you even harder!"  Especially if Jesus was writing such garbage while he was preaching.

Maybe it's a good thing that we know so little about some of our prophets and messiahs, that we rely on second- or third-hand sources for information about the likes of Jesus or Buddha.  If we found out that they wrote like L. Ron Hubbard, we might be more reluctant to follow them, to believe that someone so wearily worldly could lead us to paradise.

So no, I don't think Mission Earth should be banned.  It's pretty disgusting in a lot of ways, but you can find worse on the internet, so it's not like the book should be singled out as a threat to public decency.  For all of its flaws, it's instructive, as both an example of how not to do literature and as a look into the mind of its author.  I think it belongs on the same shelf as Hubbard's other works, so that anyone about to leaf through Dianetics can experience Mission Earth first, and then decide whether they want to read the rest of the author's material.  And whether this guy's organization is deserving of their revenue.

My hunch is that not many Scientologists read Mission Earth before they converted.


Back to Salvaging Mission Earth

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Salvaging Mission Earth

Let's pretend you're an editor working for a respectable publisher that at least wants to make a show of backing quality literature, rather than a purely mercenary vanity press.  And that after receiving your draft of Mission Earth and wading through the foot-high manuscript, your first impulse wasn't to impale the thing on a silvered spike, sprinkle some holy water on it, and leave it on the sidewalk to shrivel and burn in the purifying light of dawn.  Against all odds, you went through Mission Earth and decided "with a bit of- with a lot of work, this could be a mediocre story."  Where do you start?

One of the... well, I've used the term "fundamental problem" a lot, but Mission Earth's fundamental problem is really its author.  But one of its core problems is that the story is trying to be so many things at once - a spy drama, an action thriller, a romance, a horror story, a musical, a silly satire - that it cancels itself out and becomes an unholy mess.  Even if written by the best author on the planet, a tale that contains both Gris tripping on a skateboard for slapstick and Gris torture/rape sessions, or Heller smearing a police chief's face with spaghetti sauce and Heller killing Eastern Europe, is not going to work very well.

So the first step, and one that will inform the rest of your editing, would be to get the author to pick  which story to tell, maybe limiting the book to blending one or two genres at most, rather than failing to use all of them at once.  If the aim is a James Bond-ish spy thriller, focus on the espionage, the gadgets, the daring escapes, the dames - not Teenie, or accidental genocide, or Crobe's flesh freaks, or anything "funny" unless you liked the really campy Roger Moore movies.  If the objective is a whimsical, Douglas Adams-style satire of Earth's follies, keep the stupid character names, absurd Madison stories, bureaucratic madness, and godawful music, but cut the sex, bland action scenes, death and torture sessions.  If the author thinks it's most important to warn people of the evils of psychology, keep the lobotomies, the psychiatrists turning people gay, the Nazi conspiracy, and lose the silly bits that distract from that message.

Now this last point may remind us that parts of Mission Earth's underlying message are... ah, have not aged well.  Nevertheless, this doesn't necessarily make the book beyond salvation.  There are plenty of people today who consider homosexuality a mental illness, or who think medical professions are conspiring to milk money from their patients, while the likes of Glenn Beck have built careers out of accusing their political enemies of being Nazis.  And just because a book has an inflammatory message based on the author's paranoia and ignorance doesn't mean that it can't have a functional story.

So, back to the chopping block.  Having gotten the author to narrow his focus, allowing us to cut out the elements from other genres that were getting in the way, we keep cutting to trim the plot down.  For example, if we put the Apparatus base somewhere in the States near the pharmaceutical plants they're so reliant on, by my calculations we could trim a full 500 pages from this bloated story.  No "Sultan Bey" nonsense, no Turkish wrestlers, no plot-irrelevant visits to Istanbul, and no Utanc.  I'm sure the author could find a way to justify the Apparatus base's new location with some technology that renders it undetectable to even the most advanced nation on the planet, and this might even make these aliens a little more respectable - why, they can hide in plain sight, coming and going as they please right under the nose of the world's superpower!  It also adds an element of real danger to those pointless Code Break concerns, since it'd be easier for the local authorities to trace Heller to the secret base, and make it so Heller's absorbo-coat getting scratched during his battles with the Assassin Pilots might have some real consequences.

Similarly, pretty much all of the Gris material that doesn't involve Heller or Krak should go in the trash, simply because so much of it served to merely give Gris an excuse to go from Turkey to New York or vice versa.  The Fortune of Fear, Gris' interactions with Candy and Pinch, their only impact on the story was to get Gris to change location - it's really a testament to Hubbard's writing ability that he can waste so many chapters just making his characters move.  Cutting these prodding (as opposed to plodding) subplots would make strides toward presenting Gris as a credible threat, rather than someone who can spend a third of a book struggling to think of a way to stop the good guys.  Of course, this clashes with Gris' role as the embodiment of everything the author hates and disdains about intelligence personnel, so it'd be a hard sell; all evidence suggests that Hubbard isn't a guy who will pass on the chance to spew vitriol just to make a functional story.

There is of course still more to cut.  I almost wrote an entry on "Hubbard the Temporally Displaced," wondering whether the author's exile from his homeland is to blame for some of the odder elements in Mission Earth - the Prohibition-era mobsters, the old Hollywood stars, Madison's obsessions with Wild West outlaws.  Regardless of whether Hubbard was writing what he remembered about a distant America, reverting to his childhood in his dying years, or simply never developed past that childhood, none of those things belong in the story.  If the bad guy already leads a vast conspiracy with full control of both businesses and governments, adding the mafia as additional antagonists is redundant, and as written Heller's mobster allies were just as unnecessary.  Utanc's interest in actors from the '30s isn't so much a clue that she's not what she claims as it is confusing.  The best you can say about Madison's storytelling is that it could maybe show how silly those PR hacks are, and how stupid everyone is for believing them, except that undermines the profession as a threat.

And then we move on to superfluous cast members.  Mortie the cab driver and Heller's vintage taxi, cut.  Miss Boomp and the Atlantic City sequence, cut.  The Widow Tayl, cut.  Flick and Cun and Twa, cut, cut, cut.  Miss Simmons, cut.  Monte Pennwell, cut that whole confusing framing device and the associated late-addition cast members...

Come to think of it, maybe we should've started from scratch rather than listing all the things to be cut out?  Focus on what elements to use, and the rewrites needed to make a working story, rather than trimming all the layers of fat from this beached whale of a tale?

Right, let's start over.  By which I mean I'm gonna imitate Hubbard and power on ahead in a new direction instead of going back and rewriting or revising anything.

Book One: Title to be Determined.

The starting book's main goal is to set up the story's premise and establish Voltar and Mission Earth, but there's a lot of important things the author forgot to do the first time around that really need fixing.  We need a reason to give a simile about Voltar, to be horrified when psychology and psychiatry perverts the planet.  We need to see its good side rather than following Gris through the slums and prisons and Apparatus bases, to get a real sense of what makes it an enlightened society besides the lack of psychology.  We need to have a reason to like Heller beyond what's on his resume, to come to know and appreciate him as a person instead of a military career.  And we need to cut hundreds of pages of Gris doing office work and trying to prepare for Mission Earth almost by himself - yes, the author should show us how those evil Apparatus guys function, but we don't need to spend a whole book on just that, and leaving Gris to find a doctor and supplies and so forth just highlights how badly-run the organization is.

This is also the point that we, the editor(s), and the author have to make some big decisions.  What's Gris' role in the story?  If we cut the "confession" and Monte as framing devices, we have no need to stick with Gris as the story's (initial) sole narrator, and therefore less need to bug Heller and Krak so Gris can narrate their actions, which would have the handy side effect of forcing Gris to be more active in his surveillance and opposition to them than watching the HellerVision.  Maybe we could have the book's point-of-view character be its hero rather than one of its villains, to heighten the contrast between Heller's usual tactics and the dark world of treachery and spying he finds himself in, and to let us sympathize with him more.  Hell, maybe we could conceal the Apparatus' true aims regarding Mission Earth, as well as Gris' specific orders, until Book Two or later, so that it comes as a legitimate plot twist to the reader rather than a surprise to a character only.

Another big change to consider would be removing the hypnohelmets from the story.  They're problematic for so many reasons, from questions of why the bad guys need to use drugs to control the Confederacy when they have a device that literally controls peoples' minds, to questions of why these things are used so sparingly, to moral issues of why it's okay for the protagonists to use these things if psychology is evil for raping minds in a less direct way.  Though this would force Krak and Heller to work a little bit harder on Earth, this would cut a lengthy subplot concerning Gris' mind problems, and give Krak a reason to come along with Heller on the first trip to Earth: to keep an eye on him if Gris is still dangerous.  Really, Krak's absence for the first few books only served to draw things out even further, and the only tension regarding her arrival was whether she'd murder her boyfriend over a misunderstanding about his lodgings in a whorehouse.  Did I mention we should cut the Gracious Palms and the prostitutes?  Well, we're totally cutting that with the rest of the mafia garbage.

And I suppose this is also the point where the editor delicately makes sure the author wants to go ahead with a potentially inflammatory plot.  Maybe suggest that the Earth villain be something other than an increasingly-dated stand-in for Rockefeller, or that homosexuality might be something people are born with rather than the result of a Nazi-Freudian conspiracy, that psychologists might not want to kill their patients with lobotomies, etc.  On the other hand, if we cut that stuff out, what would the plot be?  Just drugs?  Can we come up with a better reason for the Apparatus to need Earth than a bunch of chemicals it stubbornly refuses to product locally?

Argh, I want to save the patient but he just keeps vomiting up organs.

Book Two: So What's Up With This Earth Place?

Assuming we can get through the first book's rewrites and edits without declaring it a loss or becoming alcoholics, it's time for our first look at Earth, or rather Earth from an alien perspective, and more specifically the United States from an alien perspective, because with all due respect Turkey was just a useless distraction in the original draft.  How this happens is going to depend a lot on what genre we got the author to go with.  A silly, satirical Mission Earth is going to focus on Earth's weirder cultural practices and compare its dysfunctional society to enlightened Voltar, while Mission Earth the spy drama would do better to play up the government's ability to observe and interfere with citizens' lives, creating an atmosphere of danger and paranoia.  Mission Earth: A Cautionary Tale is going to be pretty gross and disturbing, a horror tale of blood and bone shards on the floor of an operating theater, and patients reduced to drooling vegetables strapped to wheelchairs.

This is also the point where we debut the Earth villains, the Rockecenter machine or whatever, which is as important as properly establishing Voltar and the bad guys there.  We need to be shown how Rockecenter controls the world and just how formidable an obstacle he will be, as opposed to having the hero told all this by random people in between bouts of thwarting the bad guy's attempts to stop him.  And how this all falls out is going to depend on the Apparatus and Gris' orders regarding Heller.  The original plan of Lombar trying to kill Heller with an inflammatory cover identity doesn't work very well, in that it brings Heller into contact with Rockecenter's number two almost immediately, in a conflict that Heller handily wins.  We shouldn't rush into this sort of confrontation, should we?

Maybe Lombar could be a bit more subtle, giving Heller an identity with virtually no resources with the excuse that it's the only way to be inconspicuous - perhaps that of Jerome Terrace Wister, a poor country boy trying to get into a big city university.  The same result as Heller's deal with Bury, in other words, but without undermining the threat of Rockecenter.  And hey, this doesn't mean that Heller can't end up as "Rockecenter Jr." in the end, but this would force him to do some actual spy stuff to build/steal that identity instead of being handed it at the beginning of the story.

Books Three and Four: Insert Plot Here

Now we just need to fill the space between the series' introduction and conclusion with a bunch of conflict, which would get started in the previous book, of course.  Heller and Krak run around on Earth undercover, figuring out how it works and how they can save our planet from ourselves.  Gris monitors and "helps" them in ways that keep them from progressing too quickly, only to try and kill them when his superiors tell him the time is right.  Cut off from their home planet, Heller and Krak have to use what resources they've cultivated on an alien world to survive.  But thanks to their ingenuity, courage, and advanced technology, they're able to turn the tables... somehow.

Problem is that the original draft of Mission Earth is heavily reliant on two things, the heroes being able to pull a Solve The Current Problem device out of their bums as needed, and the villains being insultingly stupid.  If we want to tell a story in which the global conspiracy is actually good at controlling the world, it gets harder to believe that one naval officer new at this whole "spy" thing and a psychotic bitch are going to be capable of overthrowing them, and those damned hypnohelmets start to look tempting.

But on the other hand, do Heller and Krak really need to overthrow Rockecenter?  That wasn't in their mission statement, after all, they're supposed to be fixing Earth's environmental problems so that the planet survives long enough to be conquered.  And hell, it's not like the heroes fix Earth's conspiracy/psychology/PR problems in the original draft either.  All they have to do is get those new carburetors and power plants on the market, either defeating or evading the oil cartel's efforts to stop an alternative fuel source, or striking an unholy alliance with Rockecenter so they are the ones to sell the goods.  Surely even Rockecenter can realize that he can't make money on a dead world, or see the value in forcing everyone to buy his new engine types?  Well, not as he's initially written, but maybe we could give him a brain.

We could also have some conflict within the good guys, echoing the extremely brief breakup between Krak and Heller.  But instead of Krak deciding to believe what she read in an alien press and refusing to discuss it with her love, perhaps something the original manuscript played for laughs could be used for drama?  Rather than a sitcom-y "did you have anything to do with this?" response from Heller after someone's been hypnohelmet'd, what if Heller discovered and was horrified by the lengths Krak was willing to go through to complete the mission?  What if he turned away from her, and not over some imagined actions?  What if he had to compromise his values not just to complete his mission, but to be with the woman he thought he loved?  Just some food for thought.

Book Five: Didn't We Just Do This?

And now the exciting conclusion.  Heller and Krak have completed their mission on Earth, but discovered that the Apparatus may be a bunch of traitors, and return home to find the Confederacy in the grips of Lombar's highly derivative coup.  Fortunately our heroes just got back from operating against a similar conspiracy, and this one has only taken root recently, and they have more allies on this particular planet.  So this sequence should feel more like the Scouring of the Shire than the War of the Ring, is what I'm saying.  And maybe instead of being shown Voltar's corruption in one book and then the heroes discovering Voltar's corruption in the next, we can cut the first part so the reader and the protagonists learn things at the same time.  If we don't spoil it beforehand, Voltar's fall to psychology and PR could be as shocking to us as it is to Heller and Krak, who only had suspicions of some Apparatus plot, not a cultural revolution.

With Teenie deservedly and enthusiastically cut from the story, a fate Madison could easily share, we need to decide how Earth's societal sickness was transmitted to Voltar.  Crobe would probably serve this role well, and indeed is one of the prime vectors in the original story, but here's an idea - what about Gris?  Instead of sitting out the end of the story in a prison cell, Gris, who is already an advocate of psychology, could be recalled by Lombar to help him take over the Confederacy.  Suddenly the bad guy who's been opposing the heroes since the start of the story gets to play a real role in its end.

And maybe instead of trying to control the Grand Council through drugs, the Apparatus' original plan could be to use Earth's practices of PR/psychology/psychiatry to take over.  Lombar already decided to imitate the KGB and CIA for his own gain, so why not go for the whole shebang?  Maybe the Apparatus base on Earth isn't a supply source, but a surveillance center, diligently observing and studying how our planet functions so that the Apparatus can duplicate it on Voltar when they've mastered these black arts themselves.  This might justify Madison's existence as an expert, or "expert," on PR abducted specifically to aid and instruct the Apparatus.  Teenie can just stay in the trashcan, though.

How exactly this yarn concludes will depend on what type of story we decide we're helping the author tell (call it a 60-40 split at this point), but hopefully we can avoid a repeat of the "quick action scenes, long conference, followed by an even longer denouement" formula Hubbard seems to fall into.  But there you have it, a general set of objectives for the story to accomplish.

As for how the rewritten books would go in more detail, well, that again depends on the genre...

Mission Earth the silly story

Jettero Heller is an ordinary officer in the Voltar Confederacy's space fleets, nothing remarkable, but without any major faults.  After doing some routine surveys, he inadvertently kicks off the plot by passing on some files directly rather than properly routing them, so that the Grand Council suddenly notices a planet the Apparatus has been keeping secret.  Heller is therefore roped into a secret mission to rescue that planet from its pollution problems, even though he knows nothing of intelligence work or climatology.  "Aiding" him is a diverse cast of quirky characters: Soltan Gris, an Apparatus agent who seems to take his espionage work very seriously without being much good at it, Prahd Bittlestiffender, a talented young scientist who's easily distracted by young females, and the terrifying Krak, a ruthless Apparatus enforcer who is nonetheless smitten with Heller.

The group lands on Earth, discovering an incredibly bizarre civilization.  The local governments ramp up fears of a cold war to excuse their security measures and domestic spying, while at the same time psychologists and psychiatrists try to convince everyone to abandon their sexual inhibitions, advertising firms promise happiness if consumers only buy the right products, and the media spins elaborate tales with no grounding in reality, so that nobody is on the same page, much less reading the text in the same direction.  Heller struggles to keep Prahd on task developing the technology that will save the planet, only to earn the ire of energy companies who won't tolerate any competition.  Our hero manages to antagonize just about every group on the planet, surviving thanks to the skills of Krak, who has inexplicably transferred her loyalty from the Apparatus to the protagonist.  Ultimately, Heller's actions end up turning all these forces against each other, destabilizing the situation enough for the inherent contradictions and fallacies to cause Earth's society to collapse - but in the chaos he's at least able to unload the advanced carburetors and power plants that will keep the planet inhabitable for another hundred years.

During his hijinks, Heller discovers that Gris and other Apparatus personnel have been building close ties with Earth's intelligence agencies and other power blocs, and he and Krak return to Voltar in time to catch the tail-end of an attempted revolution.  Prahd and some of his colleagues have already become psychologists, Gris imagines himself to be a spymaster and kingmaker, and the Apparatus is trying to use Voltar's media to convince everyone they've already taken over.  Fortunately, the rest of the Confederacy is mostly bemused by all of this, and thanks to Heller's report on just how badly things work on Earth, the revolution is put down with a minimum of fuss and violence.

No rape, no statutory rape, no torture sessions, and a minimum of murder and bloodshed.  Just a bunch of people being stupid on one planet, and a bunch of people on another recognizing that stupidity.

Mission Earth the spy drama

Fleet Intelligence officer Jettero Heller is a veteran soldier used to intercepting and decrypting signals and operating behind enemy lines, until one day a coded transmission turns out to be coming from his own planet in the Voltarian Confederacy.  Almost immediately he's arrested by an intelligence service he doesn't recognize and spends some time in a secret prison, only to be just as suddenly brought to a hangar and told he's taking part in a special mission.  Heller has unwittingly exposed the existence of a planet that the Coordinated Information Apparatus has been keeping secret from the the Confederacy for some time, and the rest of the government wants him to do a full report on it.

So off Heller goes, given a half-hearted crash course in advanced espionage by his handler Soltan Gris, and partnered with a cold, sociopathic woman named Krak.  He and Krak are given a cover identity and plopped down in the United States, with Gris overseeing them remotely through mysterious means.  Heller quickly finds himself on a world much like the one he entered when the Apparatus abducted him, a society ruled by paranoia and state terror, a twisted inversion of his own career as an intelligence officer - rather than working against the enemy, these aliens persecute themselves, even "rehabilitating" citizens through lobotomies and brainwashing.  It's hard to determine who is in charge of this planet, as backroom deals between politicians and tycoons blurs the line between government and business, and the world's media is obviously committed to obfuscating the issue.

Just when Heller thinks he's coming to terms with the situation, Gris shows his true colors in an attempt on his life, and Heller is only saved when his Krak defects to his side, having fallen for him and grown tired of the Apparatus' culture of treachery.  She reveals the true purpose of Mission Earth, how long the Apparatus has been cribbing spy methods from Earth, and the plans they have for the Confederacy.  Not only contending with Apparatus assassins but also Earth's intelligence services, and even a local journalist named Madison who comes dangerously close to uncovering the truth about Heller and Krak, our heroes just manage to complete their mission and sneak home.

But their victory is short-lived, as Heller and Krak realize the full extent of the conspiracy now gripping the Confederacy, which has turned their Voltarian allies into obstacles.  Eventually Heller is able to contact trustworthy men in the army and central government and have Krak spill the beans on the Apparatus' actions, but though they attempt to purge Voltar of these dark influences, Lombar and Gris are able to escape, and there's no telling how many Apparatus holdouts are still secreted within the Confederacy.  The story ends on a mixed note, with Heller victorious but uncertain of the future.  

Mission Earth the cautionary tale

Jettero Heller is a deeply spiritual Fleet medic assigned to a survey ship that accidentally finds out about a world the Coordinated Information Apparatus has been keeping hidden from the rest of the Confederacy.  After they return home and log their report, one of Heller's friends from Fleet warns that his crewmates have disappeared over the past few days, and to be on guard.  Immediately afterward, Heller is unexpectedly reassigned to a mission on planet Earth as a base physician supporting the agents infiltrating this alien world.

He joins the cold and chaste Krak and a troubled young intelligence officer named Gris on the planet he had previously surveyed, and quickly discovers that something is terribly wrong.  Discipline at the Apparatus outpost is almost nonexistent, and for supposed intelligence officers, everyone is willing to risk security breaches in dalliances with the local population in order to sate their base desires - assuming they aren't preying on each other.  It turns out the local anti-religion, something called "psychology," has crept into the outpost and convinced people that they're soulless slaves to their sex drives.  Heller eventually leaves the base to learn more, and finds to his horror that the whole planet is this way, that this godless cult has managed to take root in the highest echelons of power to transform a whole society into lawless hedonists.

What's worse is when Heller sees his companions fall victim to these teachings, and Gris becomes convinced that all of his personal problems or career issues are the result of childhood trauma and the lack of sex, driving him to rape.  Heller and Krak try to confront these heresies at their source, only to be institutionalized and subjected to horrific "treatments."  Heller barely escapes being lobotomized, and rescues Krak only to find her transformed into a raving nymphomaniac completely unlike the woman he was falling in love with.  He nevertheless manages to escape with her back to Voltar, but discovers that in his absence, the cult of psychology has started to spread among the ruling elite of the Confederacy.

Before he can warn his friends in the military, Heller is captured again by Voltarian psychologists, who explain the true purpose of his mission: to see whether someone like him would embrace or reject psychiatry.  His captors conclude that Heller is to stubborn for enlightenment, and the book ends with him being carted off for a transorbital lobotomy.  The reader immediately writes a letter to his or her congressperson urging them to pass laws against these quack mental health physicians.

In Conclusion...

...this probably only scratches the surface of what would need to happen before you made Mission Earth a worthwhile read on its own merits.  Then again, for the last three months this blog has been cataloging all the things wrong with this story, so if you invert it all, you could get a full to-do list of ways to fix it. 

If nothing else, this post and the last one should have made clear that Mission Earth at the very least has a lot of material in it for a better author to do more with.  Probably not all at once, though.


Back to the Book-by-Book Breakdown

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book-by-Book Breakdown

They all kind of blur together after awhile, don't they?  It's easy to remember which volumes of Mission Earth had Gris wasting his gold in, or hiring a hitman, or spend a third of the book on a boat 'cause of the titles, but remembering which book Madison debuted in or when Krak arrived on Earth is more tricky.

So here's a guide of sorts, a trip down memory lane.  I've tried to break down the Mission Earth books by plot or subplot, giving page numbers for how much time Hubbard wasted on Gris getting lost in the mountains, or Madison and Flick robbing their own apartment.  I've also capped each with a sort of mini-review, but I'm not gonna do a book-by-book recap 'cause someone else already has and I don't want to be redundant.  Besides, the plot listings should give a good idea of what went on.


The Invaders Plan

The book where we meet the main characters and the story's premise is established, followed by 500 pages of preparation for a trip.  It's a very busy book, with tons of characters introduced, and a bunch of subplots set to go off much later - Gris' shipment of gold, all those people he tried to kill with fake money, Prahd and Snelz and more.  What's remarkable, of course, is just how inconsequential most of these later developments will be.  Gris wastes all that gold in a single book, and the most you can say about its impact on the plot is that it gave Gris an excuse to leave Turkey and get back to work, which is by no means exclusive to that particular development.  Prahd's only plot-relevant actions are to bug Heller at the story's beginning and keep His Majesty alive at the end, the rest is nonsense like the mobster hospital or giving Gris a freakishly large penis.  And then there's all the flat-out pointless sections of this book, such as Gris wandering around in the mountains, or his "date" with Hightee, or his failure to find a way to blackmail Heller.  We could cut almost four hundred pages from this lump and not impact the story in any meaningful way.

In short, The Invaders Plan is a good preview of what to expect in the rest of Mission Earth, in all the worst ways - a main plot that stalls for hundreds of pages before lurching forward in fits and spasms, a tangle of subplots that loop back on themselves but are unconnected to that main plot, and lots of murder, scheming and sexual deviancy to give us even less incentive to keep reading.  Like a broken-down tractor in an overgrown field that's featured in the background of a bad pornographic slasher movie.
  • Preface, disclaimers, introductions, keys, etc. henceforth referred to as "preface" - pages 1-16
  • Heller's capture and the hatching of Mission Earth - pages 17-51
  • Fun times at Spiteos, Krak and Heller's "love story," Gris failing to find something to blackmail Heller with - pages 51-233
  • Meet Tug One - pages 234-285
  • Gris is broke and starving while doing office work - pages 286-319
  • Gris tries to kill people through counterfeit money, gets lost in the mountains for three weeks - pages 320-358
  • Double date and riot with Hightee Heller - pages 359-401
  • Gris discovers he's been hypnotized - pages 402-435
  • Fake amnesty docs for Krak, Gris orders a shipment of gold, recruiting Prahd, stealing bugs, bugging Heller - pages 435-571
  • Finally launching the damn spaceship - pages 572-615

Black Genesis

If the previous book is a warning of what to expect of Mission Earth in general, here's our example of what we'll see on Earth in particular: Gris wasting time in Turkey, watching Heller progress on the HellerVision set, and screaming at his lackeys to do something.  Though from this volume you might get the impression that Mission Earth will be completed quickly - just look how fast Heller makes headway!  In two hundred pages or so he's trained by the FBI, bought off by the Big Bads after foiling their assassin attempts with ease, blunders into an alliance with the mafia, and is all set on getting the credentials he "needs" to fulfill his mission, with nothing but a bitchy teacher to stand in his way.  Surely we'll be back in time for Christmas, eh?
  • Prefaces - pages 1-17
  • Voyage, breaking physics, arrival on Earth - pages 17-63
  • Dicking around in Turkey - pages 64-128
  • Heller arrives in US, meets Mary, apprehended by FBI, given Wister identity by Mr. Bury after foiling hit - pages 129-258
  • Settling in at the Gracious Palms, Heller gets good with the mob, beginning of Gris' hassling Raht and Terb - 259-361
  • Heller goes to college, recruits Izzy, new nemesis Miss Simmons - pages 361-477

The Enemy Within

Roughly a quarter of this book is devoted to Gris' "relationship" with Utanc.  I guess this is to make up for finally introducing the Big Bad of the Earth stuff, in order to keep the book from being too productive.  Sure, you might question why Heller is setting up his Earth base and getting the necessary equipment now instead of in the previous book, but other than that, from this summary it looks like things are moving right along - Heller's doing classes, starting up a business, and getting ready to unleash his alien carburetor on an unsuspecting world.  This is of course Gris' problem, hence his efforts to make subsequent books as drawn-out as possible.  The villain's plot is literally to insert as much padding as possible into the story.

  • Prefaces - pages 1-16
  • Heller gets into business - pages 17-37
  • Gris' "courtship" of Utanc - pages 38-76
  • Heller buys a roadhouse and gets a delivery from the tug - 77-159
  • Prahd arrives in Turkey, Gris messes with hypnohelmets and installs that shut-off device in his skull, GUNSALMO SIVLA! - pages 160-240
  • More Utanc - pages 240-282
  • Gris in America, meets Rockecenter and Bury, ridiculous recruitment of Madison - pages 283-374
  • Madison turns Heller's fuel invention into a demolition derby - pages 375-424

An Alien Affair

Coming out of this book, you may think you've seen the worst Mission Earth has to offer.  We get Hubbard's equivalent to Episode I's pod-race sequence at the beginning, a wholly unnecessary and roundabout way to exhibit Heller's new fuel technology.  We get hundreds of pages of Gris lounging about, Heller puttering around, and Madison's newspaper headlines creating an alternate reality that only really stupid people buy into.  And then we had the infamous torture chapters with Candy and Pinch.  The only plot-relevant bits are Heller temporarily losing Babe as an ally, which turns out not to mean much in the grand scheme of things, and Krak returning to the story as part of another roundabout assassination attempt by Gris.  The main plot has slowed to a crawl, the useless subplots are taking over, and the author's found new ways to horrify us.

If you learn one thing from Mission Earth, it's this - things can always get worse.
  • Prefaces - pages 1-21
  • Action scene and waiting for the race to start - pages 23-43
  • Demolition derby race - pages 43-63
  • Some more Madison headlines - pages 65-85
  • Doldrums.  Heller mopes in "defeat," intermittent Whiz Kid stuff, GUNSALMO SILVA! kills and is killed, Gris is broke again - pages 85-168
  • Gris tortured by Candy and Pinch - pages 168-194
  • Whiz Kid nonsense, Satanic funeral, more Gris torture, Heller falls out with Babe - pages 195-251
  • Gris' flight to Turkey, new penis, credit card debt deepens - pages 253-324
  • Arrival and bugging of the Countess Krak - pages 324-347

Fortune of Fear

This is definitely the low point of the miserable series.  Hubbard takes a fiendish delight in wasting the reader's time with page after page being spent on Heller's fruitless trip to Atlantic City and Gris rolling around in the back of a limo with what he thinks are whores.  And then there's the infamous "Gris rapes the lesbians straight" sequence, giving an excuse for the author to have more such "treatments" for the next two books.  It's only at the very end that something relevant finally happens, when Krak hypnotizes one of Heller's opponents into submission, another thing we'll see again and again until we're done with Earth.
  • Preface - pages 1-15
  • Gris realizes that letting Krak team up with Heller may have been a bad idea after all - pages 17-58
  • Gris acquires, invests, and immediately starts wasting the fortune of fear - pages 59-114
  • Heller's completely pointless trip to Atlantic City - pages 115-166
  • Crobe arrives, imprisoned, given psychology texts - pages 167-179
  • Gris wastes his fortune on whores, or what he thinks are whores - pages 180-201
  • Crobe sicced on Heller, ends up in the clutches of psychiatry - pages 203-228
  • Gris flees his legal and money problems in Turkey for the US - pages 229-271
  • Gris rapes Pinch and Candy straight - pages 272-294
  • Gris tries to use Miss Simmons to stop Heller, Krak mind-controls her into a slut - pages 295-360

Death Quest

After spending the last two books parked in the driveway, Mission Earth's plot starts lurching forward again.  Interspaced between more Gris sex time and the introduction of the dreaded Teenie, we get the full Rockecenter story, Heller ticking a few things off his Mission Earth checklist, and Krak continuing to zap people's brains.  Oh, and I guess there was that necrophiliac gunman who was put on the cover despite lasting less than a third of the book.  Other filler includes Krak and Heller splitting up for about a hundred pages for an extremely stupid reason, prompting needless Hubbard Action Sequences and yet another vehicle added to the cast herd.
  • Preface - pages 1-15
  • Gris buys a hit - pages 17-29
  • Lesbian deprogramming - 30-42
  • Gris continues to buy a hit, Krak tracks down Miss Agnes and learns the whole Rockecenter story, more lesbian deprogramming - pages 43-143
  • Heller returns to Virginia and becomes one of the "non-identical Rockecenter twins," Torpedo fails in his mission and is killed by his own mother - 144-185
  • Krak and Heller buy a luxury penthouse and vintage car, Heller sets up his spore plant and power company, Madison makes headlines the main characters ignore, Pinch and Candy are pregnant - pages 187-229
  • Krak finally notices the Whiz Kid headlines and leaves Heller, Gris is tricked into a bigamist marriage and blackmailed by Pinch and Candy - pages 231-268
  • More lesbian deprogramming, introduction of Teenie, Heller evades the Coast Guard to go after Krak - pages 269-310
  • Gris blackmailed further with compromising pictures with Teenie, Heller and Krak make up, more Gris and Teenie - pages 311-375
  • Krak starts hunting down the Whiz Kid Wives, Gris tries to (order others to) stop her - pages 375-385

Voyage of Vengeance

This is probably where Hubbard just ran out of ideas.  He's already got Krak started with the tactic of hypnotizing her problems away, so she continues to dismantle all those "obstacles" facing Heller.  And I guess the author wanted Madison and Teenie to go corrupt Voltar, so Gris gets to grab them when he flees Krak.  And thus we get 120 pages of Gris on a boat while Heller and Krak work unimpeded, some of the most mind-numbing chapters in the story.  Hubbard still isn't done torturing his voodoo doll, so more terrible things happen to Gris on both sides of the Atlantic, and he makes one last attempt to present Gris as a credible villain by having him kidnap Krak and "kill" Heller, but this whole book feels like Hubbard was getting tired of writing the Earth parts of the story but didn't know how to wrap them up.  So they just plod on and on.

Really, if the plot of a third of the book is "the main character admits that he has no idea what to do, and so does nothing," why even bother writing it?
  • Preface - pages 1-18
  • Krak hypno-helmets the Whiz Kid Wives - pages 19-49
  • Candy and Pinch further blackmail Gris with incriminating photos of him and Teenie - pages 50-68
  • Krak hypno-helmets the Whiz Kid "double," clears Heller's legal problems, starts tracing who gave the orders for what - 69-124
  • Gris panics, nabs Teenie and Madison, fakes their deaths and flees New York - pages 125-157
  • The Voyage of Vengeance: Gris and co. return to Turkey the long way as Gris struggles for "INSPIRATION!", Heller builds his spore plant and graduates from college - pages 159-270
  • Arrival in Turkey, Gris' shotgun wedding and more financial difficulties - pages 271-329
  • Gris finally has a plan, kidnaps Krak with the Antimanco pirates, has Raht "kill" Heller - pages 330-377

Disaster

And here we rush to finish up Earth so Hubbard can get on to showing us what psychology and PR can do to an unsuspecting civilization.  So Heller gets to come back from the dead as suddenly as he was "killed," just about fixes Earth's energy problems, and kills millions and millions of innocent people.  But we've gotta get Gris in prison to write this "confession," so we hurry back to Voltar for that.  And then the story comes to a dead stop for fifty pages so Hubbard can do a hilarious satire of wannabe historians or something.  Or because he's not used to moving the plot forward so quickly and needs to catch his breath.  At any rate, more action when Heller rescues the Emperor, more action when Heller captures the New York City council for the mob, and then the climactic encounter with Rockecenter... that ends in ten pages, on a cliffhanger.  If Empire Strikes Back was a Hubbard production, it'd end with Luke falling from Cloud City after his confrontation with Vader.

Still, after the likes of Voyage of Vengeance and Fortune of Fear, this feels like an exciting book.  If you ignore Monte's section.  And can tolerate the books' hero wiping out a whole country, which everyone else decides is a good thing.  And get over how a major action sequence is just an excuse for a guy to get in his office, when he already has a flying sled and gadgets that can easily circumvent the men guarding it.  The point is, nobody sat on a boat and wondered what to do for a hundred pages.
  • Preface - pages 1-17
  • Heller kills the Antimancos, captures Gris, kills the Assassin Pilots, fake-irradiates the world's fuel supply, and kills Russia - pages 19-99
  • Reunion with Krak at Afyon, Heller fixes all the base's problems, everyone hates Gris - pages 101-160
  • Return to Voltar, Gris fakes his death and escapes, Heller raids Spiteos, Gris places himself in Royal custody - pages 160-206
  • Interlude with Monte - pages 207-254
  • Heller rescues the emperor - pages 255-289
  • Return to Earth, Heller leads a mob assault on New York City so he can get into his office - pages 290-346
  • Dealing with Rockecenter, who it turns out is a cheat and a liar - pages 347-357

Villainy Victorious 

Realizing too late that the previous book wasn't absolute crap, the author quickly sets things right by beginning this volume with an anticlimax, followed by hundreds of pages of filler.  The most we can say about "Queen" Teenie's festivities and Madison and Flick raiding a holographic treasure trove is that they indirectly nudge the plot forward.  On the other hand, if the author was keen on more debauchery and criminality, why did we need to leave Earth?  What's the point of exploring an alien society if it's just more of the same of what we've been reading about for eight books now?

Still, in a mere 450 pages, the author manages to get psychology, psychiatry and PR all established on Voltar, so Heller can be properly horrified and have something to do when he comes home.  The stage is set for the real final showdown, not to be confused with all that stuff on Earth, which doesn't really matter since Voltar won't even want to invade the planet by the end of the story... wow.  Hubbard is truly the master of the pointless plotline, isn't he?
  • Preface - pages 1-15
  • Heller kills Rockecenter and takes over the world - pages 17-36
  • Lombar recaps the plot so far - 36-45
  • Madison arrives on Voltar, meets with Lombar, finds Teenie - pages 46-83
  • Teenie's Big Gay Underage Orgy, Madison promises to deliver her Gris for her help - pages 84-126
  • Earth is doing swell, Krak can't get Heller to worry - pages 127-139
  • Madison gets Lords to bow to Lombar, receives unlimited pay grade- pages 140-156
  • Flick hijacks the plot and recruits a criminal crew to purchase and rob a house - pages 157-217
  • Madison convinces Hightee to star in The Outlaw - pages 218-251
  • Teenie and Madison tour Relax Island - pages 253-280
  • Madison uses Crobe to spread psychology on Voltar - pages 281-317
  • Heller and Krak leave Earth - pages 319-348
  • Trial of Soltan Gris and associated media frenzy - pages 349-406
  • Heller meets with Mortiiy - pages 406-412
  • More Gris trial, Madison keeps working on making Heller famous though it - pages 413-438
  • Hightee puts on The Outlaw, is arrested, scheduled for execution, and rescued by Heller, all in four chapters - pages 438-459

The Doomed Planet

A hundred pages of action, a hundred pages of denouement, followed by a hundred more in case the first weren't enough.  The climactic battle against the forces of evil is over almost insultingly quickly and laughably easily, given the amount of effort sunk into setting it up.  And then we get to talk, about all the evil things we've already seen and where all those evil ideas came from, so that the author can exposit at length about everything wrong with our disgusting little planet.  We get our guide to fixing society, evil is punished, and the good guys lives happily ever after.  And then another section with Monte, where we see how fixed Voltarian society is, how punished evil was, how happy the good guys are living, followed by another speech about everything wrong with Earth by having a corrupted Monte recommend them.

It's like in place of a cliffhanger, which won't work because this is the last book, we got a second ending instead.  God forbid Hubbard's name go on a novel that's less than 250 pages long.
  • Preface - pages 1-14
  • Gris' trail exposes Apparatus' crimes, chaos on Voltar - pages 15-56
  • Coronation of Lombar Hisst, chaos intensifies - pages 56-75
  • Heller literally knocks over Spiteos and singlehandedly storms Palace City - pages 77-130
  • Teenie takes Lombar prisoner, Mortiiy takes throne - pages 131-144
  • The big conference, Heller fixes everything, a hologram of Earth explodes - pages 144-240
  • Envois begin, Monte bothers the Hellers - pages 241-257
  • Monte discovers the fate of Teenie, Madison and Gris - pages 258-301
  • Monte visits Crobe and Lombar at the Gulag of Mental Health - pages 301-324
  • Monte bothers the Hellers some more, specu-narrates the fate of Earth - pages 324-331
  • Monte's Ode to Earth, gets lectured by Uncle Cuht - pages 332-355

So there they are, the books of Mission Earth and what was in them, abridged.  I think the obvious thing to do is dive into the pacing problems and try to find a way to fix them, but that may work better in a more general "fixing Mission Earth" bit, and that is gonna be a long post.


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