Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mission Accomplished?

This is certainly overdue, and probably no surprise at this point, but Mission Spork is over.  I was hesitant to declare as such, partly because I was waiting to see if I had one last essay in me, but mostly because after three years and a month working on this project, it's a little hard to let go. 

It was a lot of fun, mostly.  Some of the chapters ended up being pretty unpleasant, and sometimes all the stupid really got to me, but there's something rather cathartic about ranting at bad literature.  I'm actually feeling out of sorts for want of a bad Hubbard novel to spork. 

So today I picked up some more from my friendly local used bookstore.

I've done nothing more than check out their covers so far, and need to do at least a quick skim-through before I go any further.  I wouldn't want to start something only to find that the book I'm looking at is merely mediocre and therefore boring - Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth have spoiled me by being extraordinarily bad, and I'm worried that the rest of Hubbard's works won't meet those lofty (abyssal) standards.  On the other hand, I've long wondered just how far Hubbard fell as his career continued, as his literal cult status meant he didn't have to worry about quality when it came to finding readers for his works.  Comparing his last two novels with some earlier works could be interesting even if the books themselves are not.

All this to say, Mission Spork is done, I am not.  I'm not sure if this next project will be another blog or if it's time to put these things on one website, but at any rate, when I get started there will be an announcement on this blog.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the ride, and that you'll join me on the next one!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Lemme pitch a story idea, something I guess we could call Investigation: Earth.

An interstellar polity composed of remarkably human aliens called the Roso Republic is dealing with a minor mystery: the attempted infiltration of its government by hundreds of devotees of a bizarre pseudo-religious movement.  Its founder, Londar Hyst, has already fled into uncharted space with a small fleet of his disciples, prompting the Republic to launch both a pursuing force as well as an inquiry to find out what's going on.  Records indicate that Hyst had been deployed near a planet called Earth during his brief career as a naval officer, and may have made illegal contact with the developing culture.  Councillor Krev reluctantly sends the Republic's best federal investigator, who happens to be her wife Jenn Elisia, to infiltrate the alien world and discover what could have driven Hyst to commit his crimes, and whether this is an isolated incident or an invasion by a society thought incapable of interstellar travel.

Elisia soon finds herself on a world gone mad, a planet of great wealth and great poverty, a highly superficial and materialistic culture, and a staggering amount of mental illness.  She meets with Solom Grays, the local Earth expert who has been monitoring the planet for the past decade, and is given a cover identity as Jasmin Heper, a Turkish exchange student at an American university.  This allows her to investigate the planet's dominant nation without attracting undue attention, though Elisia quickly becomes bored with her classes - luckily Solom informs her that she doesn't necessarily need to finish college to complete her mission, and that "college drop-out" is a valid identity.

After a settling-in period, Elisia is able to properly begin her investigation, and with Solom's guidance it doesn't take long for her to find something eerily similar to what recently infiltrated her own government, a group or movement called Knowledgeonomy.  It's hard for her to wrap her head around, since it acts like a cult but is more like a self-improvement program than a proper religion, and simultaneously claims to be helping people while vigorously prosecuting anyone who discusses or distributes its teachings.  But somehow Knowledgeonomy spread through America's media elites, and after a few celebrities ran for public office, was able to take over the political system as well.

Once in power, its followers outlawed the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry with the justification that they were quack professions and Knowledgeonomy offered real solutions for mental illness - for a substantial fee, of course.  From there the movement began cracking down on other health care services, and even began bullying religions, all to protect its monopoly on cures for society's ails.  The end result is that the majority of the population focuses its attention on vapid movies and television (starring famous Knowledgeonomists) in order to forget their physical, mental and spiritual malaises, while only the wealthy can afford treatment for their problems, yet never seem to be cured of them.

Elisia is rightfully horrified by all this, as even her limited medical knowledge tells her that Knowledgeonomy's "treatments" are a mishmash of psychology and occultism that shouldn't be capable of curing depression, much less physical problems such as arthritis or leukemia as claimed.  But she needs to dig deeper and learn more about this group, and so after some grave warnings from Solom, she attempts to infiltrate the organization.  This takes the form of an endless series of "treatments" involving nonfunctional devices, which drains the aliens of much of their funding and forces Elisia to improvise some neuroses to be "cured," but she's able to gain acceptance.  She learns of Knowledgeonomy's deceased founder, a former science fiction author named Elron Buzzard who the group paints as a combination explorer, war hero, scientist and philosopher, and Elisia recognizes the persona that Hyst was building for himself back in the Republic.

But disaster strikes when, at a Knowledgeonomy function, Elisia's repeated attempts to deflect unwanted romantic advances from a celebrity member end up outing her as a lesbian, and she is captured by members out to "cure" her of her mental disorder.  After some torturous "therapy" sessions, Elisia is placed in an "introspection chamber," tied to a bed in a dingy basement surrounded by vermin, and only occasionally fed.  She's able to use her training to escape and alerts the local law enforcement to her imprisonment, only to find herself facing prosecution for infringing upon Knowledgeonomy's religious rights and copyrighted treatments.  More startling is that the group's lawyers are launching an aggressive counter-investigation of Elisia and Solom, and their base of operations even suffers burglary attempts.  The two aliens are forced to destroy their records and go underground in order to hide their identities.

Yet in her darkest hour, Elisia makes some unexpected allies - an anonymous community of hackers on the planet's global information network, who have managed to evade Knowledgeonomy's censors and distribute suppressed documents from and about the organization.  Though some of their actions strike her as dubious, from them Elisia is able to learn the true story behind Elron Buzzard, the one that Knowledgeonomy has done its best to rewrite - his adventures abroad were embellished attempts to get rich quick, his military service was short and embarrassing, his scientific career based on a few failed college courses, and his writings were at best juvenile.  More than that, these hackers are able to give her details about how Buzzard spoke of founding his own religion to make money, and the lavish lifestyle he enjoyed thanks to the donations of his followers.  Most importantly, they share high-level Knowledgeonomy documents that detail the group's core beliefs, which take members years and thousands of dollars in "treatment" to learn.  It all sounds like the plot to a bad science fiction story - Knowledgeonomy blames mental, spiritual and physical ailments on the corrupt souls of aliens deported and executed on prehistoric Earth.  Elisia and Solom find this particularly amusing, as the Roso Republic has been monitoring Earth for some time and knows of no other galactic civilization to have traveled there.

In the end, Elisia makes contact with some rare entertainers who haven't joined Knowledgeonomy, and who share her disdain for the movement.  With her encouragement, she helps them put on a program that lampoons the group based on their very teachings, and though it threatens them with legal reprisal, the truth about Knowledgeonomy spreads, leading to popular backlash and ridicule.  This creates enough of a distraction for Elisia and Solom to escape from Earth and return home.  Elisia gives her report to the Republic's government, explaining where Hyst got his inspiration from, how the group operated, and how to defeat it - not through heavy-handed legal repression, but simply by circulating the truth and letting citizens see the movement for what it really is.  The council agrees, and promotes a slightly dramatized account of Elisia's adventure for general consumption, called Investigation: Earth.

I'm thinking of a straightforward trilogy, titles to be determined later.  Part One gives us a glimpse of Roso before following Jenn to the very different Earth, and needs some starter obstacle to form a climax for that part of the story - hopefully something more interesting than Elisia's college experience.  Part Two will dive deep into Knowledgeonomy and have that dramatic ending where Elisia and Solom are forced into hiding, and Part Three will put things right, wrap things up, and end on a high note.

It could probably use a villain, though, someone to be the face of Knowledgeonomy and directly hamper the heroes' progress - a high-level movie star named John Coast or something like that.  And maybe an Earthling friend for the aliens to bond with, perhaps one of "Jasmin"'s classmates, or an honest police officer.  I'm also not quite sure what to do with Solom - would it be more dramatic for him to die in a heroic sacrifice, or for him to turn traitor for some reason?  Also might need to come up with an explanation for why the aliens from the Roso Republic are indistinguishable from Earth's humans.

Obviously there's a lot of work and polishing to be done, but who knows, maybe it has potential.

Back to the Value of Mission Earth