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.


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