Friday, July 31, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - Part One - Doctor Who?

We're off to a great start.

Ole Doc Methuselah wasn't thinking what he was doing [sic] or he never would have landed on Spico that tempestuous afternoon.  He had been working out some new formulas for cellular radiation--in his head as usual, he never could find his log tables - and the act of also navigating his rocket ship must have been too much for him.  He saw the asteroid planet, de-translated his speed and landed.

So right in the first paragraph we have the awkward sentence "thinking what he was doing," the nonexistent science of "cellular radiation," a good old-fashioned rocket ship, a heavenly sphere that is simultaneously a full-sized planet and an itty-bitty asteroid, and the made-up word "de-translate" being used to describe a ship slowing down, which makes no sense even if you use translate as a verb to mean you change position - what, the pilot did the opposite of changing position?

But while this introduction more or less highlights all the failings we can expect from the author, it at least does a good job of setting up our main character.  This Doctor Methuselah is obviously a smart feller capable of doing Science! in his head, and also a man with practical skills that let him fly his own spaceship.  He's also whimsical, someone who will land on a planet for no other reason than it was along the way, even though if he'd taken the time to think about what he was doing, he may have realized it may not be the best idea.  He does what he wants, he's the bloody doctor.

And it also implies that when he set his course, he didn't check to make sure where he was heading, so that this asteroid-planet caught him by surprise.  When it was close enough to be seen by the naked eye.  If he'd had to get up to tinkle he may well have plowed into it.  Whoops.

After landing, Ole Doc spends some time alternately looking out the front viewport at the pretty meadow and babbling brook he has parked his spaceship next to, and finishing up his calculations, which he writes down on the cuff of his sleeve - "his filing system was full of torn scraps of cuff," see.  In the future, spaceships will have to devote entire rooms to filing cabinets to handle all the physical records produced by their journeys.

The narrator admits that Ole Doc had "mostly forgotten where he had been going, but he was going to pour the pile to her" ...my best guess is that this is an allusion to a radioactive pile powering the ship's thrusters.  Which means that Ole Doc looked up from his work, saw a planet, decided to land on it, immediately went back to work, and when he was finished decided to leave  But then he gets another look at the brook, takes his finger off the engine controls, says "That sure is green grass," and picks up his fishing pole from where it's handing over the control panels.  And so he goes fishing.

It's left unstated, but we can only assume that before he stepped outside, Ole Doc checked his instruments to make sure the atmosphere outside wasn't poisonous, and that the local gravity wouldn't compress his spine like an accordion, while also inoculating himself against all the foreign diseases he would have no resistance to.  At any rate, the narrator says "Lord knows what would have happened to Junction City if Ole Doc Methuselah hasn't decided to go fishing that day," so rest assured that this spontaneous excursion is leading somewhere.

Oh, and did you know Ole Doc is a slaveowner?  Watching "his god" fish is a being named Hippocrates, "a sort of cross between several things" that the author doesn't bother to specify.  Could be a frog-badger hybrid, maybe a mix between a wolverine and a grand piano, use your imagination.  Anyway, our hero purchased Hippocrates for cheap at an auction on Zeno shortly after the Trans-System War purely to investigate his metabolism and gypsum-based diet, but for the past thirty years Ole Doc has kept him around as a companion.  Hippocrates is an albino, has four hands, a taciturn demeanor, and a memory that makes up for Ole Doc's shortcomings - for example, while he watches Ole Doc fish, Hippocrates reminds himself that his owner needs to take some medicine at "thirty-six o'clock."  Which I guess confirms that Ole Doc is mentally incapable of keeping himself alive without a dedicated assistant and the dumb luck of spotting a planet before he plows into it.

But then something happens!  A "radiating pellet" zips past Hippocrates' left antenna and embeds itself in the hull of the Morgue, their ship!  I... guess it's a bullet?  An irradiated projectile of some sort?  Whatever it is, Hippocrates knows just what to do, he's memorized "Tales of the Early Space Pioneers" and mentally turns to page 49.  The alien goes inside, turns on the "Force Field Beta," leaves out the 960th degree arc because that's where Ole Doc is, and grabs some blasters and ammunition.

And wow, just a straight up force field and generic blaster weaponry.  No attempt to explain how the shield system enlarges the molecules in the air so nothing can squeeze past them or how the gun fires superheated strands of ionized disgruntlement.

Anyway, Hippocrates is now armed, the force field is up, they're ready for anything, and... Ole Doc continues fishing, "either unwitting or uncaring" of what's going on.  And rather than talking to him to ask for instructions or explain the situation, Hippocrates sees that his "worshipped master" is unconcerned, and so simply settles down, sitting on the bottom run of the ladder.  And then nothing happens for an hour.

Um... well, guess there's no need to rush into the excitement just yet.  Tune in next time when we'll meet another character and the plot will actually start up.


Back to the Introduction

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Have a Good Feeling About This

Since surviving Mission Earth, the two Hubbard pieces we've looked at just haven't had the same impact.  There was Fear, a horror story that had a few effective parts that turned out to be ultimately based around a clumsy twist, and then there was Buckskin Brigades, a pretty generic adventure story pretending to be the redemption of the demonized American Indian.  Maybe it's because they're much earlier Hubbard novels than his magnum opus, so they aren't as Hubbard-y as what we became accustomed to.  Or maybe Hubbard is just out of his element when he's trying to write in the past or present.

So when I hit my local used book store, I was happy to spot a big fat Hubbard hardback next to a tower of the full Mission Earth series, a collection of science fiction stories that Hubbard started in 1947.  Let's meet Ole Doc Methuselah, shall we?

We've got us some classic sci-fi here - smooth, shiny spaceships, bright and colorful alien skies just jam-packed with ringed planets and nebulae and moons, and crisp, clean uniforms.  Our hero is boyishly handsome yet stands in a commanding pose, and his crossed sparking wands and mothercrunching cape with lightning decorations suggest that he possesses the wisdom and ineffable powers of a wizard.  It may be hard to tell in this picture, but he's before a crowd of cheering (and uniformly caucasian) people amidst a bunch of pyramidal space buildings.  His companion on the platform extending from his golden starship is some squat reptillian thing with multiple arms and thick legs, supporting a gun that's compensating for something.

The icing on the cake is that said lizard thing is also holding a copy of The Invaders Plan.  It's just like the blurb on the book jacket: "Ole Doc Methuselah was the name by which he was known on a myriad scattered planets, for he was the most famous member of the most elite organization of the cosmos, the Soldiers of Light.  But he was no soldier in the military sense, for the enemies he fought were disease, corruption and the warped psychology that spread in the isolation of mankind's lost planetary colonies." (emphasis added)  We're in for some generic pulp sci-fi with that special Hubbard touch.

The book's introduction gives a history of Hubbard's writing at the time the first Doc Methuselah story was published, which I'll just skim for you.  The original short debuted in Astounding magazine's October 1947 issue, and was published under the pseudonym RenĂ© Lafayette (the L. in L. Ron is for Lafayette) presumably because of the amount of Hubbard material already appearing in Astounding and is sister publication Unknown.  Introduction writer Robert Silverberg describes the Doc Methuselah stuff as "perhaps reminiscent of the classic westerns," a "high-spirited romp" that the reader probably shouldn't take too seriously, while still containing speculation about the future of the medical profession.  I'm looking forward to learning how psychologists fit into all this.

There's also a Foreword that is nothing but what's already on the bookjacket, as well as a speech the lizard guy will make a bit into the first story reprinted verbatim, so I'll skip most of it.  There is a nearly page-long footnote, however, explaining the history of one organization we'll learn more about soon, which ends with the suggestion that if the reader wishes to learn more they "consult L. Ron Hubbard's "Conquest of Space," 29th Volume, Chapter XCLII."  I guess one of the perks about writing about the future is being able to decide that your other works will become famous as indispensable reference material.

The book contains seven stories that are about fifty pages long apiece, and they aren't divided into chapters so I'll get to arbitrarily choose when to end posts.  I've read most of the first piece and think it offers suitable sporking material - hopefully the rest live up to my expectations.  If not, or perhaps for a bit of variety between stories, I also have four really short Hubbard books in other genres like spy thrillers or pirate stories to turn to.

So yeah, break's over, I'm back to doing my thing.  See you guys soon!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Afterword

And what was with the title, anyway?  The only people who wore buckskins (or antelope hide jackets) were Yellow Hair and the Blackfoot, while the only brigades were the fur traders.  Title should've been Buckskin, Brigades.  I was thinking that at some point McGlincy or someone would try to recruit Yellow Hair and his fellow natives for some corporate warfare, offer them some extra trade goods in exchange for taking out the rival fur traders - buckskin-clad axillary brigades recruited for the purpose of plausible deniability, in other words.  Seems a better plan than raiding your rival yourself, then dragging a captive Indian into sight when someone comes to investigate and saying he did it.

Other than that, I can't think of much else to say about Buckskin Brigades.  This sadly means that I've exhausted the pile of Hubbard junk taking up valuable space on my bookshelves.  So this blog will probably be quiet for a bit as I visit the local stores to find a book to spork, but I'll be sure to drop an update once I have something.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Postscript - Hubbard, Blood-Brother of the Blackfeet

Buckskin Brigades is presented as a Western that finally tells the Indians' side of the story.  I think it's more accurate to say that it's a Western with an Indian(ish) protagonist.

See, while conventional Western adventures present the Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages and will kill dozens of them in action scenes without a second thought, here Hubbard... presents the whites as bloodthirsty savages and kills dozens of them in action scenes without a second thought.  It's a "fair" portrayal insomuch the roles have swapped, but he's still reducing one group to villainous caricatures and putting the other on a pedestal.

I'm not saying that what happened to the Native Americans wasn't disgraceful, I'm saying just because a group endured betrayal and genocide doesn't make them all saints and all their enemies devils.  Life is a bit more nuanced than that.  Some of those voyageurs and bullies and whatnot interacting with the natives during the booming days of the fur trade probably had no real problem with them, may even have respected the Indians for being able to survive in the wilderness.  But in Hubbard's world, these fur traders are all recruited from prisons and are murderous drunkards all too happy to find an excuse to kill a redskin.  Though ultimately victims of white imperialism, the real-life Native Americans were just as capable of conquest and doing nasty things to each other (frickin' Aztecs).  In the novel, we can at best infer this from a few references to the Blackfoot's fearsome reputation on the plains and the captives they've taken from other tribes, but the author repeatedly insists that they are both honorable gentleman and victims of baseless aggression.

Now, we can't expect every pulp Western adventure novel to care deeply about presenting a historically-accurate and balanced portrayal of each civilization involved in the story.  Sometimes you just wanna read about a sheriff plugging some outlaws, you know?  But in a work that's hyping itself as one that gives an accurate depiction of the American Indians, you might want to make the effort.

But that's all how the book handles the Indians in general.  In particular this story is about the Blackfoot, supposedly based on the time lil' Hubbard spent dancing around the tribal campfire and absorbing their history and culture with all the attention to detail that preschoolers are known for.  So what did we learn about what it's like to be a Blackfoot?

Not all that much, really.

We learned that one group called themselves the Pikuni, as a substitute for the name Piegan.  They thought beavers were sacred and didn't like to travel in boats.  If you read the book's glossary at the end you might learn that the Blackfoot counted "coups" or feats of bravery when determining a warrior's status.  Their afterlife is something called the Sand Hills.  Hubbard claims they called their scouts "Wolves" and could communicate to a degree with their namesakes.  He also thinks that families arranged marriages and Blackfoot women had no say in the matter, which conflicts with some sources I've found.

And... what else... they lived in lodges based on societies that weren't important to the story.  And I suppose they were peerless warriors and noble and honorable especially when compared to those scurvy whites.  We didn't learn where the name "Blackfoot" came from, as far as I can remember - I had to look it up and it has to do with moccasin color.  And of course the much-hyped "never pass the peace pipe across the lodge door" thing never came up.  Can't remember them even mentioning the peace pipe.

It's another failing that we see in both Hubbard's first book and his last.  Much like how we never got a sense for the goodness of Voltar in Mission Earth because he focused on the Apparatus-infested parts of it, in Buckskin Brigades we're introduced to the Blackfoot when they're in crisis, and then our viewpoint character runs off for a couple of years.  So we know what it's like to be a Blackfoot itching to join a war party before being called into a council meeting, who then travels to a fur trading post and spends the next couple of years alternatively barely getting along with, getting betrayed by, and fighting white folks.  Or more specifically, we know what it's like for a white guy raised as a Blackfoot to do this stuff.  Because for whatever reason the author decided the main character had to be a honky.

We miss out on the tribe's history, and most of its culture.  We don't see any festivals and just get hints of its religion.  The chapter spent summarizing Bright Star's activity at home is the closest we come to a look at normalcy for these people.  The most we can say about how the Blackfoot live is that they have lodges, wear buckskins, ride horses and hunt game.  Not a whole lot that distinguishes them from their neighbors, in other words. 

Now in our age of high-speed internet and online encyclopedias, we have to give the Ancients some credit for being able to assemble even basic facts from dead trees.  But Buckskin Brigades feels more like an elementary school report listing tribal trivia than a proper introduction to one of the First Nations.  The Blackfoot as presented are an otherwise generic ethnic group given some bare embellishments through the author's inclusion of names and terminology... which come to think of it could be said about those Canadian fur traders as well.  I mean, if Hubbard didn't call them voyageurs and bullies and whatnot, what would distinguish them from just another batch of white squatters?

In the end, Buckskin Brigades is an underwhelming adventure story and a shallow portrayal of a group of American Indians.  It's simple escapism with racist undertones in which a perfect hero is at war with a corrupt, irredeemable civilization.  It twists and disregards history to fit a particular narrative, and combines a minimum of facts with a good deal of fiction to try and present its author as some sort of expert or authority on a subject. 

It's a pretty good introduction to L. Ron Hubbard, in other words.


Back to an Envoi 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Envoi - Hubbard's First Novel

Buckskin Brigades is better than Mission Earth, at least.  Though that's not much of a compliment, I've passed things caked to the road that were better than Mission Earth.

Hubbard's obsession with psychology hasn't surfaced yet, so the villains are all bastards without being made that way by Napoleonic head-plumbers.  No sex scenes, vanilla or perverted.  Genocide isn't committed by the protagonist and presented as a good thing.  But just because a cake doesn't contain any rat droppings doesn't mean it's automatically delicious, and we can see a lot of the problems that will plague Hubbard's later works in this, his first published novel.

The main character is a shallow escapist hero, blandly handsome and strong, unable to be defeated by anything short of field artillery or the awesome power of Plot.  A mook shoots Yellow Hair in the arm, he has to bandage it for a chapter but it's never really a problem.  A bad guy sneaks up on him and takes aim at Yellow Hair from behind, he's able to dodge the bullet as it fires and make a precision shot while diving with a longarm.  Yellow Hair gets shot in the throat at close range, and all it does is make him sooty and bloody.  All a year of miserable imprisonment does is give him another reason to seek revenge.

There's no consequences when our hero is placed in danger, so there's no interest in or excitement during the action sequences.  At most we watched the final battle with minor curiosity over whether Hubbard would find it more satisfying for Yellow Hair to give his life for his people or live happily ever after.

Oh, and he's better than us, as usual.  Jettero Heller was a Royal officer awarded special status and privileges by his government, Jonnie Goodby Tyler was elevated to post-apocalyptic tribes' pantheons once they heard about his exploits, and it turns out Michael Kirk was the son of a celebrated war hero and senator who we learned was undone by jealous, lying rivals.  In one chapter that had no relevance on the rest of the book.

It's really mind-boggling that, in a story that constantly points out how savage the "gentleman" members of the cast are, the author felt the need to give his hero a prestigious pedigree.  What, Yellow Hair's mighty deeds weren't enough?  We couldn't have rooted for him if he'd just been the son of a nameless mountain man?  It's not like the book would have gone any differently, since as I said the revelation about Yellow Hair's father occurs in one chapter and isn't shared with him.  Heck, Yellow Hair doesn't spend much time reflecting on his father or wondering where he came from, did he?  The only people who spoke of Kirk the Elder were the Indians.

The bad guys are as per usual one-dimensional and incompetent, greedy drunkards and arrogant aristocrats just itching to kill some Indians for no reason, even when it makes no sense from a business standpoint.  McGlincy is a lot like Terl or Gris in that his schemes drive the plot, but consistently backfire against him so that he's undone by his own dimwitted machinations.  He decides that he needs to produce an Indian after ambushing Motley's boat and antagonizes a local tribe by abducting one of their own, then he has to flee across the continent to retrieve the captive but instead of handing him over decides to use him to bait a trap.  The bad guy's plan hinges on the good guy behaving exactly as he wants him to, as well as an unfounded belief that he can be coerced into doing otherwise.

The Mustache at least stands out for being an Act Two threat that is strangely sidelined when the initial villain returns, then manages to escape any sort of punishment for what he did to our hero.  He somehow slips out of close combat with Yellow Hair in the final confrontation, and then is allowed to go free - McGlincy goes home in disgrace, but the Mustache is on Yellow Hair's side and eager to tell the truth of McGlincy's misdeeds.  I guess getting shot in the hand was punishment enough for his first attempt on Yellow Hair's life?  And preemptive punishment for his second attempt on Yellow Hair's life?

And then there's the pacing problems, which at least aren't as bad as those in Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth in that we don't waste entire books watching the viewpoint character try to come up with a plan.  Buckskin Brigades may have the opposite problem, in that it's a story where years pass but little happens.

Yellow Hair spends a winter at a trading post, and it's all summarized in one chapter - he learned English and hunted, that's about it.  He's shipped as a prisoner up to York Factory, summarized in another chapter, and then spends half a year in a cell, which is again skimmed through until the night he escapes.  He and Father Marc cross Canada in the dead of winter, and at least we get a few highlights of that perilous journey, but it's again given only a single chapter.  Hubbard finally spends some ink explaining how Yellow Hair's stay at Fort William went, only to again summarize the crossing of Canada so we can get to the final battle.

This is a story eager to get to the action sequences, but doesn't waste any time on the character or plot development to make them meaningful.  We don't get to know any of the bullies or voyageurs at Fort Chesterfield, Yellow Hair despises them as wicked white men and that's that.  We don't see Father Marc's struggles to do the right thing in a corrupt and racist system, he's simply ineffectual at rescuing his friend until Yellow Hair frees himself.  We're told characters are this and this and do that and that, but rarely see them do so.  Hubbard does do better when the story gets to Fort William, and we see a bit of the interactions between the fur traders, the natives, and the colonists, but this only raises the question of why he didn't do the same in the rest of the book.

On the bright side, Buckskin Brigades handles women better than Hubbard's later books, which again isn't saying much.  Our hero and his love interest are introduced as being in love, so we miss out on the growth of their relationship or the specifics of why they like each other - we're told they're in love, so they are.  Our two females' characterization is weak, though that's hardly exclusive to them, and there isn't a disturbing misogynistic streak going through the novel as there was in Mission Earth, and Bright Star at least can look after herself (with the help of two slaves).

Though come to think of it, the female characters are kind of manipulative.  Bright Star goads Yellow Hair into his rash mission to Fort Chesterfield, and then the Mustache's fiancee lies to her future husband in order to goad him into killing a man over her affections.  Hmm.  Well, at least they do something in the story.  Even though Bright Star's later role is as a source of drama - will she be forced to marry someone other than her twue love, did she really die off in the wilds just before the finale?  But she's never objectified, even if she becomes less than a real character, if you get my meaning.

All things considered, Buckskin Brigades is pretty mediocre.  Nothing about it is particularly bad, but it isn't polished enough to be considered good.  I suppose you could call it pulp fiction, just your basic adventure story to give you something to do while you were waiting for World War II to start.  But Buckskin Brigades wants to be more than that.  It wants to be a historical novel, a tale of the early American West, and we've seen that it isn't very good at that.  And as its foreword and central themes show, it's a book that wants to be an account of the American Indians.  We'll take a look at this angle next time.


Back to an Epilogue

Friday, July 10, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Epilogue - Tangled History

There's actually an appendix after Buckskin Brigades' final chapter, but... well, we've already read it.  Remember back in the prologue, when Hubbard borrowed "a few lines" from Captain Lewis' journal, which amounted to five full pages of text?  The book repeats them.  Entirely.  Complete with the italics on the "With the first of these there was a white man" line.  Three pages of paper, wasted.

Well, perhaps I'm missing the point.  Maybe we're supposed to re-read it, and see how our experiences with Yellow Hair these past 286 pages have made us view history differently?  ...Yeah, it's not working for me either.  Captain Lewis camped out with some Indians, some Indians decided to try to rob him, and he shot one and the other got knifed.  Then miles away a fellow named Yellow Hair found out and went off and had some incredible adventures that seem to have vanished from written records, until over a hundred years later the great historian and novelist L. Ron Hubbard came along to tell the real story.

Which brings us to the topic of this little essay: Buckskin Brigades, Hubbard, and history.

I speculated that Mission Earth was, in places, Hubbard's attempt to rewrite his own history.  Buckskin Brigades isn't as bad, it'd probably be classified as historical fiction in that it's a yarn set in the past.  But that seems to be giving it too much credit - it think it'd be better described as historical fanfiction.  It takes a known historical event, Lewis' encounter with some natives, and then sloppily ties it to an original character who is of course handsome, brave, clever, etc. and who goes on to have a rollicking adventure completely divorced from canon.  I mean history.

Because if Fort Chesterfield was indeed burned down in the early 1800's, neither Wikipedia nor a record of Alberta's early history considers it worth mentioning.  Neither does McGlincy show up anywhere, nor does Father Marc, the "Mighty Monk" who completely failed to live up to that name.  I can similarly find no record of this Yellow Hair, Michael Kirk, or his father the former Virginian Senator L. R. Kirk.  The most we can say is that this story accurately represents the fact that there were Indians interacting with fur traders at this time in the northern Great Plains area, and sometimes those interactions were violent.

Now, is this a problem in itself?  Not really.  I mean, it depends on what you're doing with your historical fiction.  If you're telling the story of a known figure, it's probably not a good idea to suggest that President Millard Fillmore took a trip across the Pacific and ended up sumo wrestling the Emperor of Japan during his term, unless of course you're telling a comedic tale that doesn't take itself seriously.  If you're interested mainly in the historical setting and not necessarily the figures in it, there's no harm done in inventing a character to place in the Revolutionary War so you can explore what it was like to live during those tumultuous times.  You may even use a historical setting as an excuse to tell a certain type of story, since a tale about a gang of train robbers wouldn't really work in the modern era.

But Hubbard's doing something different.  As I said, he's used a historical incident as a jumping-off point for his tale, but he is trying to do more than just tell an adventure story that's light on adventure.  Hubbard wants to change the way we view the Native Americans.  In fact, he spends much of the book repeatedly hammering us with the sentiment that those people weren't savages, that the white settlers were often more uncivilized than them, and it was wrong for their lands to be invaded and seized.  And I really, really hope this wasn't revolutionary stuff back in 1937.

Hubbard's big problem is that he's basing his story on history, and then compressing it.  I'm not talking about the frequent timeskips, either, or including Colter's Run a few years too early.

Buckskin Brigades starts with the echoes of the gunshot fired by Captain Lewis in 1806, and how Hubbard thinks it could have affected the life of a white man raised by Indians.  But nothing else that happens in the story has anything to do with this incident.  It may be the catalyst that makes the Blackfoot take action, but then the rest of the tale is about Yellow Hair and the brigades of fur traders up in Canada.  Then there's a whole chain of causes and effects - Yellow Hair works at Fort Chesterfield, McGlincy decides to frame him, Yellow Hair is imprisoned but escapes from York Factory, McGlincy runs into him again at Fort William, and the Blackfoot's response to Yellow Hair's disappearance leads to the conflict in the story's climax.

Captain Lewis has nothing to do with anything after Chapter Four, and the book's bad guy becomes the fictitious McGlincy.  Unfortunately, while the story's events are about Yellow Hair's interactions with McGlincy and the fur brigades, its message is still focused on Captain Lewis.  Or more accurately, what will come after Captain Lewis returns home.

We know about the United States' march westward, the Indian wars, the treaties, the broken treaties, the reservations.  Except this story's setting, as the book's foreword reminds us, is the Early West, so none of that has happened yet.  The most that's going on at this point is some mountain men and explorers poking around, and a few trading posts popping up along rivers - trading posts that the Indians for the most part welcomed, because those "guns" kick ass!

Except Hubbard consistently writes like the invasions and expulsions have already happened, like the Blackfoot are having their lands gobbled up, that the diplomatic overtures of the Lewis and Clark Expedition are somehow the equivalent of a broken peace treaty.  And this means he has to come up with some tortured logic to portray the Blackfoot as victims and justify their actions - they didn't lose two men in an unsuccessful robbery, they knew that Lewis was lying to them and trying to get them to lower their guard so they'd be invaded!  Or he has to depict the fur traders as what can best be described as Hubbard Villains, people so vicious and stupid and viciously stupid that they'd actually go against their own business interests if it means that they'd get to watch some Indians get drunk and kill each other in a brawl.  And then for the grand finale he paints the destruction of a trading post (but not the one across the river) as a great victory against the invaders, even though it was a five days' ride from the Blackfoot's home village.

It's one thing to use allegory in historical fiction, to take an event like the Salem Witch Trials and use it to examine anti-communist hysteria of the 1950's.  Hubbard's doing the opposite, insisting that those Salemites were actually running a far-sighted campaign against communist infiltrators.

The weirdest thing about all this may be that the author decides to end on an unambiguously happy ending, instead of alluding to the Indians' grim future.  Yellow Hair sends his nemesis off in disgrace, becomes a legendary hero whom history will strangely forget, and even gets the girl.

Nobody observes that there's still an HBC outpost in the area, distributing guns to any Indian with beaver pelts.  No dour elder notes that it was the use of the white man's cannon that won the battle for Fort Chesterfield, not bow and arrow - even in victory, the Blackfoot lose a bit of themselves and have to take on the white man's ways.  Long Bow doesn't wonder what happened to that snake-tongued explorer, and if there might be others like him that come to their lands. Motley doesn't show up with a big smile, eager to sign a treaty that will surely ensure peaceful relations between the natives and his traders until the end of time.  A nameless Indian extra doesn't pick up a cough from one of the white prisoners.

For a story that is so heavily influenced by the Indians' future, it bizarrely gives the impression that they all lived happily ever after.

You gotta wonder why Hubbard even bothered to set it during the Early West when he's trying to tell the story of the Old West.  There's nothing about this rather generic tale of revenge that is tied intimately to the fur trade, and with a bit of work you could cast Yellow Hair as a half-breed who joins the US Army as an interpreter, only to be betrayed by his bosses, leading to a war between his tribe and the invaders.  But I guess Hubbard really liked those voyageurs and bullies and fur brigades (or maybe he really hated them, given how he writes about them).

And of course, we have that line from Lewis' journal: "there was a white man," a plot bunny if I've ever heard one.  Guess Hubbard wanted to make his Yellow Hair a part of history, even if that meant twisting history pretty badly to fit the story he wanted to tell.


Back to Chapter 39

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 39 - The Noble Indians Defeat the Evil White Men, Forever

Let's end the book with one last little timeskip, for old times' sake.  It's now sunset, Fort Chesterfield has finished burning down, all its loot is sitting on the shore waiting to be taken home with the Blackfoot, Motley has heard McGlincy's confession and has pledged his goodwill to Yellow Hair and his tribe, and the Nor'Westers have taken off for home in disgrace.  All in all, a pretty productive day.

It was quiet as the twilight came on and Yellow Hair had slowly lost all elation of his victory.  Ay, he had triumphed over McGlincy.

Kind of felt hollow, though.  I was expecting the two to at least interact during the final battle, maybe even have a proper duel to the death or something.  Instead McGlincy scampered off, Yellow Hair aimed a cannon at him, and made his nemesis grovel for a bit before doing the Cruel Mercy thing.

Though "nemesis" may be stretching it.  Yeah, McGlincy framed Yellow Hair and set most of the book into motion, but Yellow Hair didn't seem all that interested in this rivalry.  He took no action against McGlincy during the weeks or months spent at Fort William, and made no effort to clear his name either.  Maybe the Mustache is a better choice for Yellow Hair's nemesis since his lordship at least made a personal attempt to kill the renegade, except no, Strathleigh isn't even mentioned in this denouement.  Hmm.

He had delivered his tribe's ultimatum to the whites.

Well, some whites.  Or does Yellow Hair really expect McGlincy and the Mustache to take their message all the way to the King of Canada or whoever?  And that king represents every white man, everywhere?

And what does this ultimatum actually accomplish?  The Nor'Westers didn't invade the Blackfoot's territory, Fort Chesterfield was five days away from Nameless Pikuni Village.  Unless that did count as an inexcusable encroachment, in which case why is Motley's fort still standing?  Or if this is all about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, why are you complaining to the people who had absolutely nothing to do with it?

He had secured the guns and ammunition he had originally been sent for, and a great deal more than anyone had expected.

Even Yellow Hair said that the original plan was to learn the language and customs of the fur traders, so the rest of the tribe could continue to exchange furs for weapons until they were ready to drive them out.  But I suppose skipping the intervening steps and just expelling the whites some of the whites counts as success.

But anyway, it's a total, glorious victory, and Yellow Hair knows that the Council will shower him with prizes - already Low Horns and Long Bow have promised him their favorite robe and horse, respectively.  But while White Fox has (nonverbally) indicated that Yellow Hair has earned a big lodge of his own, and Father Marc has (off-camera) praised Yellow Hair for his mercy, they knew him well enough to keep their distance.  Yellow Hair is moody.  "Revenge is a useless thing," after all, and won't give him back what he's lost.

The long years he had been away flitted fitfully across his mind.

Just as fast as they flitted across these pages.

Bad years they had been.

What brief parts we saw, anyway.

But they might serve at some later time.

Gaunt years.  Sobering years.

He was glad they would not come again.

Guess he knew Hubbard had no plans for a sequel.

Ay, he had returned.  To an empty lodge.  Too long he had been gone.  Too long.

Yes, Yellow Hair figured out the truth behind Bright Star's disappearance - instead of being forced to marry someone she didn't love, she chose to strike out for a life on the plains.  Yellow Hair considers it a "sensible rule on the whole," even though it means some maidens "killed themselves" like Bright Star has.  Man, if only Hubbard's Blackfeet practiced what Wikipedia's Blackfoot did and let females choose whether or not to accept their husbands.

So that's it.  Yellow Hair has won the war, but lost any chance at domestic happiness. 

He could not sit here through the night.  He could not show them the darkness of his spirits...

Something touched his shoulder.

Hands were sliding down his arms.

Abruptly he was pulled backwards and into the soft grass and there---there against the sky!  It was Bright Star!

It's a good thing Yellow Hair disabled his ninja reflexes from Chapter Six and didn't spin around and kick her in the jaw or anything.

But yeah, um, she's alive.  This character whose off-camera disappearance and presumed demise was related to us four chapters ago turns out to not be dead after all.  What a surprise.  What a relief.  While Bright Star and Yellow Hair do that thing where a couple rolls around in the grass laughing and hugging each other, Bright Star explains - or it's narrated that she explains - how she and Magpie and "a girl slave" all hid out along the Marias River for months, doing just fine on their own.

Hyai, what a wife she would make him!  She would become the greatest sits-beside-him woman in the whole Pikuni camp!

Hyai, but let him try to stop her.

I'm not sure who's not-talking here.  If it's Yellow Hair, then his only expressed reaction to Bright Star's return isn't a declaration of love or confession of what her absence did to him, it's the sentiment that she'll be an excellent prop to sit next to him during council meetings.  If it's Bright Star, then she's one of those disappointing females who defines her ideal existence as belonging to a particular man.

But hooray and all that.  Father Marc materializes, "his uneasy conscience" making him say the magical Latin words to make Yellow Hair and Bright Star man and wife.  A laughing Long Bow throws a robe at them, awfully good sport that he is, then goes back to camp to spread the good news.  And the lovebirds more or less ignore them both.  Also, there's no mention of Father Marc taking his leave after doing the priest thing, so if you want you can imagine Yellow Hair and Bright Star embracing or even giving in to their pent-up passions while Marc awkwardly stands nearby.

Black night but stars bright in the sky---the gentle whisper of the river down below---

He had come home.

THE END

Note that Yellow Hair was last mentioned by name a full page ago, and two other male characters have appeared since then, so we're ending this book on ambiguous syntax.  Which feels appropriate.


Back to Chapter 38 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 38 - Yellow Hair Threatens his Prisoners and Talks a Bunch

Man, it's a good thing Yellow Hair is in charge of this battle, and was able to tell his people to capture all the fleeing bullies and whatnot instead of running them down as per his original order of "do not leave a man alive!"  Sure would be awkward to end this book with a massacre.

As it is, McGlincy and the Mustache are sweating in the trading room, which has gone all quiet.  The rest of the fur traders are refusing to shoot for fear of provoking the besiegers to burn the place down around them, but it turns out the Blackfoot have other ideas - everyone freaks out when they notice that the attackers are "rolling up cannon!"

Yes, the Blackfoot have managed to get the fort's artillery pieces off the walls and into the courtyard in one piece to aim them at the trading room.  No, the two that Yellow Hair cut loose to fire upon the fort weren't damaged in the process, especially the one that shot itself off the wall  Yes, Yellow Hair figured out how to load and operate the things by watching the bullies operate them off-screen during a timeskip, and is able to instruct the Indians.  Soon all four guns are loaded and pointing at the trading room.

Yellow Hair had something of a grin on his face, though his powder-blackened skin

Let us take a moment to appreciate the possibly unintentional symbolism of Yellow Hair, having been violently rejected from white society, now has literally been darkened to better fit in with his adopted people.

 only let his teeth gleam through.  To McGlincy these were very like wolf fangs.

It was too good a chance for Yellow Hair to miss.  It was such a wonderful turnabout of the tables on McGlincy that it simply had to be done.

Thanks for explaining the irony of the role reversal, Hubbard.  Nice to know that even in your first book you were looking out for your stupid readers.

"With more humor than menace," our hero calls for McGlincy to come out, mocking him by dropping some "damme"s into his threats to blow up the fort if he doesn't.  Yellow Hair doesn't quite count down from ten, but slowly lowers the torch towards a cannon until the men holed up inside the trading room kick McGlincy out.  Alone in front of a horde of Indians, and specifically looking down the barrel of a very big gun, McGlincy turns into a blubbering mess who can only beg wretchedly for his life.

The punk was still near the torchholes and McGlincy was almost looking into the muzzles. His teeth began to chatter and he shook so hard he could not talk.

"Spare me," he whined.

"Don't kill me!" he shrieked.

"Please, for God's sake, have mercy on me!"

But Yellow Hair refused to do anything but grin at him and McGlincy's heart was ice within him.

Because it'd sure be awkward if his heart was ice and lying in the dirt in front of him.

He whimpered and groveled and walked forward by shifting his knees.  His hands were held prayerfully under his upraised chin and his eyes sought heaven---though what he expected to find there was questionable.

Just remember, McGlincy is a Bad Guy, which means it's okay for a Good Guy like Yellow Hair to put him through psychological torment in the name of revenge.  And since we of course identify so strongly with our hero Yellow Hair, it should be super-satisfying for us too.

Eventually Yellow Hair gets tired of this sad display and has the Mustache and other survivors come out of the trading house.  After reminding McGlincy that he once talked about an Indian execution method involving roasting a man alive... I guess this happened in one of the many months that passed in the story that we never saw.  Anyway, Yellow Hair then reminds the Mustache that he always wanted to shoot some Indians, so now, "perhaps he'd like to see how accurate Indians can shoot by letting them fire at him?"  Which as an ironic threat doesn't quite work, but whatever, we're almost done with the book.

"Oh, God, no," moaned Strathleigh.  "Look, you're a civilized white man, Yellow Hair... er... Michael Kirk.  You wouldn't---"

"You've said otherwise, Strathleigh."

What's weird is that the author passes on a perfect opportunity to turn "civilized white man" into an epithet by having Yellow Hair insist that he's a Pikuni, which is why he won't gun down unarmed men.  Or at least explain to the readers that the Mustache is hoping that by calling Yellow Hair a civilized white man, he won't act like the "civilized" white men have behaved in this story.  Because white men are greedy and evil and murder for fun and all that, while Indians are pure and innocent and honorable, remember.

Anyway, Yellow Hair turns his attention back to McGlincy, says that for his misdeeds he deserves something much worse than simple execution, and announces his doom - "I'm going to send you to Edmonton."

I am suddenly reminded of MST3K's treatment of The Final Sacrifice.  You seen that one?  One of their best episodes, probably in my personal top five.

Yes, the punishment for the bad guys is to be sent back to their bosses in Edmonton, sans weapons, pelts, fancy clothes or even whiskey.  Since "death would not cure you, but above all else you love glory," Yellow Hair is going to give McGlincy a heaping helping of shame, and the Mustache will be sent along with him to make sure he tells even the king himself the truth of what happened.  The king of Canada lives in Edmonton, right?

And it's weird, but the Mustache is all too eager to assure Yellow Hair that he'll do exactly that.  And then a wretched McGlincy turns to Luberly, but even that toad shakes him off and snaps that "I've had enough of your stinking carcass, I have."  And surely your smile must be growing wider now that the Bad Guy's supposed friends and allies have turned on him, and all of the bullies are looking at McGlincy with disdain, and he knows he'll never have a command again.  Things could only be better if he found out his girlfriend had gotten married to someone else and his parents had disowned him.

Now, you might be wondering why our hero isn't sending Father Marc, the only white fellow he really trusts, to go along with McGlincy and make sure the truth gets out.  Although the better question is where Father Marc is at the moment - there's no mention of him being rounded up last chapter, or being with McGlincy's holdouts this chapter, or any explanation of him hiding somewhere else during the battle.  But to answer your original question, Yellow Hair decrees that he's keeping Marc here, "to show him how a clean people can live."  The bathing jokes from Chapter 8 have come full circle.

Finally, Yellow Hair says that before he leaves, McGlincy will go over to Motley's fort and explain just which "Indian" attacked his boat and stole his fur shipment back in Act One.  After one protest, the bad guy agrees.  And then there's nothing left but for our hero to give the Mustache a big speech.

"Strathleigh," said Yellow Hair, "these Blackfeet are finer people than any of yours.  And this country we have here is wholly ours.

Suck it Tushepaws, Shoshone, and all the other rival tribes we've conquered or driven off.

You can tell the Nor'Westers to spread the word that we mean what we say.  I have just talked with the chiefs

Obviously this happened in between taking the fort and setting up the cannons.

and they tell me

The highest authority among the Blackfoot, evidently.

to communicate to you the ultimatum that no white shall set foot in the Blackfoot domain on the penalty of death.  Too long we have remained idly by while you robbed us.

How dare you take those beaver pelts we brought you in exchange for weapons and trade goods!

Here in this fort we have the guns we need, the ammunition, the knives.  We take them as spoils of war.  Whatever else we need we will trade for to [sic] the Hudson's Bay Company across the river.

Or maybe some American fur traders when they show up in a few decades.

"Through you and your men and friends I have received much harm even unto the loss of the woman who was to become my wife.

Oh, so that's what this is all really about...

"Tell them that, Strathleigh, and I'll say no more about murder.

The word "murder" hadn't appeared in the chapter until this line.

You others, prepare to be gone.  Take only your personal baggage, all else is forfeit to the Blackfoot nation and the families of the men who died bravely fighting here today.

Wait, Indians died during this quote-unquote battle?  The only casualty actually mentioned was Lost-in-Mountains' horse.

Your canoes are waiting for you."

Aaaand the chapter abruptly ends.  With nary a word from any of the other Indian chiefs.  I guess I missed the part where Yellow Hair rose from an unblooded warrior to become commander-in-chief of the whole damned Blackfoot Confederacy.


Back to Chapter 37

Friday, July 3, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 37 - The Climactic, One-Sided Battle

Just from the first paragraph, we know that the evil white fur traders have absolutely no hope of winning this exciting final battle.

Fully half of the three hundred rifles leveled through the loopholes in the palisades were discharged before the Pikunis were in range.  The eddying, red-stabbed clouds of white smoke from the black powder hung like a fog outside the log slabs, momentarily hiding the enemy from view.

Aside from wasting their shots and making it harder to land successive attacks, many of the men inside the fort freak out upon hearing the warcry of the now-invisible, charging Blackfoot host, so between all the smoke and the screaming, "chaos reigned" behind the walls.  And as if this didn't defuse enough tension in this climactic battle, Yellow Hair suddenly pops up, very not dead from last chapter's point-blank shot.

He's a bit dazed, and doesn't know where the Mustache and Pierre scampered off to, and he's covered in blood.  See, that bullet "had ripped across his throat without touching the jugular vein, and his face was on fire with the burn of the powder."  But hearing his people's warcry immediately rallies our beloved Yellow Hair, and like his months in captivity before his escape from York Factory, our hero's injuries will have no effect on his ability to perform eyebrow-raising combat stunts.  Hell, getting shot in the throat doesn't even stop him from yelling orders this chapter.

So Yellow Hair heads towards the wall, runs into a fleeing voyageur, floors him in one punch and takes his rifle and pistol.  He aims and takes a shot to down a gunner on the wall, then climbs up the ladder and charges along the wall, knocking people down.  And it's weird, the author mentions that Yellow Hair can hear McGlincy roaring somewhere in the distance, but our hero doesn't seek out his nemesis - instead it's McGlincy who hears one scream out of many, notices Yellow Hair, and gets a mook to dramatically barely miss him.

Guess Yellow Hair has his eye on the prize.  He dashes along the wall despite a hail of bullets - "He was moving too fast to be hit," see.  When Yellow Hair reaches the bastion, he takes down a gunner by smashing his teeth in with the butt of his pistol, stabs him before he finishes hitting the ground, and snatches the torch the guy was holding, all in two sentences.

Yellow Hair hears the "thud of horses striking up against the the log slabs," conjuring the mental image of the Blackfoot cavalry running head-first into the palisade walls.  But I guess they're doing what Long Bow did two chapters ago, getting their horses against the wall, standing on their backs, so they can climb up and over.  And of course the bullies on the walls are pulled over or knocked down, no Indians are thrown back or anything, don't worry.  But other bad guys come up to "savagely contest the wall," so pretend this is exciting.

And then, all that's missing to make this a proper Hubbard Action Sequence are the gratuitous exclamation points.

There was no time for indecision or thought.

Yellow Hair grabbed at a cannon, slashed its ropes, slammed it completely around, depressed the muzzle at the gate and applied the match he held.

The author suggests that Yellow Hair did all this without thinking about it, yet he deliberately grabbed the dead guy's match just a few sentences ago, suggesting he was planning something.

The cannon thundered and hurtled backward and off the bastion.

The shot blasted through the gate, tearing it half off its huge hinges.

Yellow Hair yipped and shouted, "To the gate, Pikunis!  The gate!"

Not even a little wince from yelling out of a mangled throat.  Oy.

Three more bad guys appear to threaten our hero, but in once sentence he's able to jump over the second cannon, cut it loose, swing it around, and light its fuse before tumbling fifteen feet over the wall.  Kaboom, the cannon fires behind him.  Sure is a good thing these guys utterly failed to use the artillery pieces that McGlincy made such a big deal about using to sweep the Indians off the walls, when the Indians were taking the walls.  Guess they were waiting for their commander's express order or something.

Naturally, that nasty drop didn't do anything to our hero but require him to shake his head to clear it, then he's able to grab a riderless horse and swing himself into the saddle, riding it out of the smoke to bump into White Fox.  As a stoic old Indian, wide eyes are the only sign that White Fox is delighted to see Yellow Hair again.  And you might be under the mistaken impression that White Fox is leading this battle, but

Yellow Hair shouted, "The gate!" and then realized he had to explain.  "This was into the fort!  Recall our people!  Follow me!"

I'm thinking that "was" is supposed to be "way."

So Yellow Hair leads the charge, the chiefs and horde of warriors following him into the smoke and noise, with nary a doubt or moment of hesitation.  Yellow Hair's able to get his horse to budge against the blasted gates to force them fully open, and then the Blackfoot are in the courtyard.  And it's very much like pulling one of my favorite tricks in Medieval II: Total War - when besieging an enemy castle or settlement, keep them occupied facing your main force at the front gate, while your Spy opens a side entrance so you can ride your cavalry right inside, running down your foes as they try to flee to the safety of the inner keep.

Because that's exactly what happens, the voyageurs and bullies and other terms for fur traders all try to flee to safety instead of staying on the walls.  Some make it to the trading house, while the rest run right out of the fort but are rounded up and taken prisoner.  And the author points out that they're surprised to be wrangled "like so many horses" rather than killed, but of course these heroic Indians would never slaughter an opponent who had thrown down his weapon and run away.  They might then strip him naked and force him to run before hunting them, but they'd be fully justified in doing that because the white guys are treacherous and stuff.

At that point things just kinda peter out.  McGlincy and the Mustache are holed up in the trading room, and while the former tried to get his men to keep fighting, the order was swallowed up by all the chaos and yelling.  Now, "Inside the fort, the clamor subsided by degrees."

...Wonder what Motley and his lads think of all this?  Surely they've noticed the horde of seven hundred angry natives descending upon their commercial rivals across the river.  Guess it's not really their problem.


Back to Chapter 36 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 36 - The Botched Trap Before the Storm

And now it's the day of the battle.  Time for the story's climax, I guess.

No matter what the traders' appellations for them: "bloodthirsty thieves," "treacherous savages," "ignorant barbarians," and others, the Pikunis did not feel themselves obligated to verify these spurious titles by attacking the fort without real reason.

Though as we've seen in the earliest chapters, sometimes Hubbard's Indians have to come up with some interesting logic to justify their actions.

Also, don't they already have real reason?  The author has repeatedly stressed how these lands belong to the Indians, he's declared that the whites' arms dealing is a clear and present danger to the Blackfoot, they've received word that a war host is now encamped on their borders, and of course these particular white guys have already falsely imprisoned, abused and attacked our beloved Yellow Hair.

Anyway, when McGlincy looks out from the fort at dawn, there's seven hundred Blackfoot doing that thing where they stand on the bluffs dramatically outlined against the sky.  But since one of their chiefs is approaching with the branch of I-want-to-parley, everything's going according to plan. McGlincy exposits to the Mustache about how he'll capture the chiefs and "shatter" the rest with cannons and rifles if they attack, but the Mustache warns that they both know "how cautious wild animals are in general."

McGlincy grinned.  "You've seen me being nice to Yellow Hair,

We have?

Flipping through recent chapters, the only time we've seen Yellow Hair and McGlincy interact on-page was during the wolf howl incident last chapter.  There was mention of Yellow Hair distrusting McGlincy's "kindness," but no examples of that kindness.  Unless the book's main villain was one of the anonymous Nor'Westers who gave gifts to Yellow Hair six chapters ago, and the author forgot to tell us.

but you've forgotten why we brought him along."

"That's so."

So wait, the Mustache actually forgot about the plan he hatched with McGlincy, and then spent months crossing Canada to carry out?

Anyway, Jacques - whoever that is - is summoned to fetch Yellow Hair, while the Mustache leaves the trading room to ready his rifles.  This is important, and the author stresses that Yellow Hair does not know that the Mustache had been in the house.  It'll only take a few pages for this to be relevant.

Yellow Hair is snappy and asks McGlincy what he wants, but the bad guy merely gives him an indulgent smile, talks of the "great service" Yellow Hair has done for the Nor'Westers, and produces a wad of bank notes as a token of his appreciation.  Yellow Hair asks what he's supposed to do for these strange pieces of paper, and McGlincy merely asks that Yellow Hair tell the chiefs to come in for "a nice, quiet parley."  And this sounds reasonable, I mean what kind of moron would try to start a fight with that many warriors surrounding him?  But Yellow Hair is still suspicious.

Yellow Hair said, "Is that all?"

"Why, yes, of course, that's all.  We all like you, Yellow Hair, and we think your influence with these people will aid us a great deal.  You've proven yourself a man of mettle.  Bless me, if you haven't!  These Blackfoot were worried about you last year and they'll do what you tell them.  Now, like a good lad, just step up there on the catwalk and sing out that I want to talk to them."

The villain just spent a paragraph mentioning all the reasons his plan is a terrible idea, as well as indirectly listing all the alternatives to it.

He's figured out that Yellow Hair is inexplicably important to the Blackfoot, so it might make sense to improve his relationship with him and then use the "renegade" as a bridge to interact with the locals, build a good business relationship and reducing conflict.  He's mentioned that his conflict with the Blackfoot started when they asked where Yellow Hair was last year, so that if he returned him to them, it might be defused.  And he's mentioned that Yellow Hair is extremely hard to kill, so maybe any plan that could end with pointing a gun at him might not be the best idea.

But McGlincy is set on having this war, so he'll go ahead with defying the convention of parley and trying to use some chiefs as hostages to subdue the people who are enemies in part because he keeps antagonizing them.

Also, why is he just now trying to bribe Yellow Hair?  Why wasn't this something he started doing back at Fort William months and months ago?  Why would you wait until the very last possible second to try to win over the person who is critical to your plan's success?  At least lie to his face and say how you want to avoid conflict with some peace talks, instead of emphasizing that you want to control these people through him.

Ugh.

So Yellow Hair is smiling, but not in a friendly way, because he knows things.  He knows that McGlincy wouldn't part with this much of that "money" stuff unless he planned on getting it back posthaste, and so Yellow Hair "saw his own doom in the pound notes."  He knows that there are three other people at the fort who speak Pikuni, but McGlincy selected him specifically because he knows the Blackfoot will do as he says.  And he's caught on to the fact that the book's bad guy is belligerently stupid.

So he throws the money into McGlincy's face all dramatic-like, and before the bad guy has time to draw, Yellow Hair's pointing his pistol at him, saying "You've played your last trick, dog-face."  But then someone pokes him in the back with a pistol, and says "How now, my pretty renegade.  What's this?  What's this?  Drop that gun, please."

And now you know why the author made a point about Yellow Hair not knowing the Mustache's whereabouts, to take some of the sting from our hero being caught off-guard.

But then Father Marc busts in and points his own pistol at the Mustache, telling him to - wait, no, Father Marc is useless and doesn't appear in this chapter.  Instead McGlincy scoops up his money, calls in Pierre (must be Jacques' brother), and orders Yellow Hair to give that invitation to the chiefs or else the Mustache will kill him where he stands.  So our hero is marched up to the wall, with a gun on him and Pierre hanging close to verify what he says, but as far as those outside the fort can see Yellow Hair's alone.

McGlincy repeats his demand that Yellow Hair invite the chiefs to "pow-wow" and... I mean, is Yellow Hair really necessary for this?  These Indians routinely come into the fort to trade, and it's indicated that the morons think parley means you can't attack people or something.  Hell, they were coming up to parley before they saw Yellow Hair in the first place.  Or if his presence is required, you could just have him come up on he wall with you so the others can see him while you make your invitation, and not - and this is important - stress how you expect Yellow Hair to control them.

Anyway, we come to the dramatic moment where Yellow Hair has been threatened with death if he disobeys his captors, but then he looks out upon his people gathered outside the fort.

Yellow Hair looked long at the lines on the heights.  The sun was there now, shining on the upheld lances, flashing from knives, letting the war bonnets glare in the proud glories of red and white.

With shields ready over their breasts, the host sat with impassive faces, waiting [sic] orders to attack or withdraw, all eyes fixed upon Yellow Hair.

Warriors all.  Equipped with the weapons that had twice conquered the eastern world; blood brothers to the valiant troopers who rode at the stirrups of Genghis Khan, of Tamerlane, kin to the samurai.  Drawn up, waiting orders, erect and haughty in their saddles, afraid of nothing.

A savage mob, this?

Again with the Mongols.  What, no comparison to the classic mounted knight of the West or closer horse cultures like the Parthians or Scythians?  Why are you trying to keep readers from viewing the Indians as savages by equating them to other mounted forces who were pretty damn savage?  The Mongols raped and massacred their way across the known world, flung plague-ridden corpses over besieged walls, made mounds out of their victims' skulls, subjugated Russia for generations while the rest of Europe was moving into the Renaissance, and dealt a blow to Arab science and culture with the destruction of Baghdad that the region still hasn't fully recovered from.  This isn't to say that they were the only people who did nasty things to other people, but the Mongols actively cultivated their reputation of cruelty in order to terrify their opponents into submission.

Also, the samurai?  Not exactly renowned for their cavalry (yes, some fought from horseback, but they weren't quite Mongols at it), and they'd probably be perturbed at being lumped with those barbarous horsemen who tried to invade their country.

Anyway, Yellow Hair looks from those noble savages to the drunken, treacherous rabble within the fort walls, and so he yells out "Pikunis!  Warriors!  Charge and do not leave a man alive!"  And it's a good thing Father Marc doesn't exist anymore, or else Yellow Hair might feel awkward about telling his people to kill his only white friend.

It actually takes several seconds for Pierre to get over the shock of this, but he eventually screams that Yellow Hair ordered an attack instead of a parley.  Our hero waits until Pierre finishes before he whirls about,

But Strathleigh had waited too long for this chance.

He aimed at Yellow Hair's face and fired.

Yellow Hair, on the instant, dived straight at Strathleigh.  The bullet and flaming powder hit.

In a struggling ball of humanity, the entire group spilled earthward.  But McGlincy stayed on the wall.  Without looking down, to the right or left, McGlincy screamed "KILL THOSE CHIEFS!"

Maybe Yellow Hair should've dove off the fort and then yelled "It's a trap!"

Anyhoo, the battle begins.  The Nor'Westers fire their volley, but Yellow Hair's warning means that Low Horns, White Fox, "and the rest" were already turning tail, so the worst that happens is Lost-in-Mountains' steed getting hit.  The Blackfoot are so awesome the White Fox and Big Wolf are able to catch the guy and lift him off his dying horse before he hits the ground.  Low Horns gives his own signal, and It is officially On.

The whole front had seen the shooting of Yellow Hair.  They believed him dead.

So are you now revealing his survival to us, author?  Defusing what little dramatic tension had time to build in the half-page since the Mustache took his shot?

It only required this to whip them into a rising roar of rage.

Bite me, Hubbard.

Yellow Hair's a young wannabe warrior who hasn't made a name for himself on the battlefield, spent his introductory chapter bitching at his older mentor figure, and isn't even a full-blood Pikuni.  But it's his supposed death that sets off the rest of the tribe, and not the treacherous shots fired at their leadership?

From seven hundred throats and more came the war cries.  A yip-yip and then, with voices soaring upwards to a shrill, screaming falsetto which ripped through the eardrums like so many knives, the host streaked down from the heights in a thundering charge.

And so we arrive at the chapter's cliffhanger ending, as the final battle begins.  And I'm really curious as to how this turns out, since cavalry charges against fortified positions bristling with firepower traditionally don't end well for the horsemen.


Back to Chapter 35