Monday, August 10, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - Part Five - Enlightenment

Let's do some world-building before the excitement of Act Three.

Ole Doc wanders back to Junction City, and not the "more lawless quarter" with its shouting and music, but a quarter that isn't really a city at all, just a bunch of people huddling around a campfire.  Yep, they don't have a house, or the materials to build a house, or even a source of income to buy materials to build a house, but they're confident that the atomic power plant Capt. Blanchard spoke of will be going up any day now and everything will turn out alright.

And how did these people get here again?  This isn't like the settlement of the Old West, Hubbard, where you could get a wagon and some oxen and just strike out for the frontier, these ten thousand people had to travel via spaceship.  And this presents our story's premise with a little problem: if space travel is easy enough that a bunch of humble pioneers could sign on to this scam, then Spico shouldn't be that important as a stopping point on the great spaceway between Procyon and Sirius.  But if space travel is difficult enough that you could conceivably need to stop on a little dirtball like this one to... resupply, or something, whatever, then how did all these rubes get here?

Not that the whole "spaceway" scenario isn't problematic in itself.  From what I know about space flight from watching people play Kerbal Space Program, you use up most of your fuel leaving the atmosphere, then use the rest for maneuvering.  Once you get up to speed in hard vacuum you just coast through space since there's nothing slowing you down.  So stopping to land and then taking off from Spico would be a tremendous waste of energy.  Or if Spico isn't needed as a fuel depot, but as a place to get more air and space fuel to make the rest of the trip to wherever you're going, it'd be more efficient to put the passengers into stasis sort of like we've seen Ole Doc use on his patient.  Instead of sticking them in a healing drawer, stick them in a chemically-induced naptime drawer.

What a surprise, a Hubbard story that has to ignore both science and its own sci-fi technology in order to work.

Anyhoo, Ole Doc stops by the campfire to listen to a woman perform some "sad and plaintive Magri song which hung over them like a sad ghost of night," listening more to the music than the words, thinking of "the cascades of bright hair he supposed waited for him over at the Morgue."  And since the author was clumsy enough to use the word 'supposed,' we can only assume that something has happened to Miss Elston while she was off-screen.

A young Earthman - why are some people Earthmen, one guy's a Martian, and the rest of the cast undefined humans? - offers Ole Doc some tobacco, and he chats with the party of friendly, hopeful dupes who traveled a fantastic distance to huddle around a campfire on the open plains of another world.  Our hero says his lot's nearby and that his own party just consists of him and a slave, and since nobody reacts to this we can only assume that slavery is not only legal, but socially acceptable in this setting.  Maybe it's okay because Hippocrates is a filthy xeno?

An old man starts coughing "as though at any moment he would spray his soul out on the ground before him," and Ole Doc watches with eyes narrowed, "suddenly professional," before (with Hippocrates' help) getting out a little black kit to produce a "very small but extremely potent pill."  The old guy is a little suspicious, but when Ole Doc insists that he's-

He never introduced himself.  I can get the pioneers not introducing themselves because they're nameless background characters, but Ole Doc - and how'd he fill out that paperwork, either?  What, did he use a fake name then, but can't be bothered to now?  Do these settlers, who talk about how they're all neighbors and will need to work together to make this new nation grow, just not care for names?

Anyway, Ole Doc tells the geezer "I'm a physician," and the geezer gulps it down, as any of us would if a nameless stranger offered us a drug and an assurance that he knows what he's doing.  Ole Doc tells him it should cure his "asthma" in an hour and suppress it for the immediate future if he keeps dry and warm.

There was renewed attention in the circle.  "Well, by Saturn," said the old man, "I never heard of no pill that'd cure asthma in two or three hours.  What kind of doctor do you be?"

And what kind of quacks are the settlement's three existing physicians, if they don't have access to this wondrous treatment?

Then we get the speech from the introduction that I saved until now, when Hippocrates pisses off Ole Doc again.  Wall of text incoming!

Unbidden, phonograph record-wise, Hippocrates was only too glad to answer his question.  "The Soldier of Light is no ordinary physician," he announced in his shrill voice.  "He is part of an organization of seven hundred who have dedicated themselves to the ultimate preservation of mankind no matter the wars or explorations of space.  There are one hundred and seventy-six trillion human beings throughout this galaxy.  There is roughly one physician for every hundred and sixty of those.  There are only seven hundred Soldiers of Light.  They give allegiance to no government, need no passport; so long as they do not engage in political activity, their persons are inviolate.

"An apprenticeship of one hundred years is required to become a member of this society and membership is not confirmed until the applicant has made an undeniably great contribution to the health and happiness of mankind.  Members of the Universal Medical Society do not practice as do ordinary physicians.  They accept no fee.  The organization is self-supporting.

"You see before you my master, Soldier of Light seventy-seven, known as Methuselah."

I'll dig into this momentarily, let's wrap up this section first.

When all the stupid settlers hear who Ole Doc is, they stand and respectfully remove their hats - everyone knows of those legendary Soldiers of Light, and a few have heard about Ole Doc in particular.  Ole Doc is embarrassed and angry with Hippocrates for his lack of subtlety or subterfuge, and so hurries back to the Morgue, while the alien goes to sit on a rock and be miserable for upsetting his owner twice in one evening.

But when Ole Doc returns to his ship, he finds that Miss Elston is missing, while Dart is no longer in the cabinet he'd been put in - why, the Martian must have had a radiophone hidden on his person!  Luckily Judge Elston is still in his healing cabinet, because evidently Dart thought the old man was dead and didn't search for him.  There's also a note supposedly from Alicia Elston (oh, she has a first name) telling Ole Doc not to go looking for her or do anything that would risk his special super-doctor status by getting involved in these political affairs.  Because trying to save a colony of thousands of people from freezing and starving to death after being scammed is political, right?  And certainly not something a doctor would want to get involved in?

Ole Doc has none of it, though, and grabs a blaster, some rounds, and races off into the night towards where he last saw Blanchard.  End of what is in my hardback copy an unmarked section, and in other printings is an actual chapter.

Now, let's look at this whole "Soldier of Light" business.

It's not fully explained here, but as a I said, Hippocrates' introductory speech is used in this book's introduction verbatim, and there is a lengthy footnote explaining this organization's history.  The Universal Medical Society was formed in the late 23rd century after two billion lives were lost in the great Revolt Caduceus, in which the Earth-Arcton Empire was ravaged by "the villainous use of new medical discoveries to wage war and dominate entire countries."  Maybe "medical discoveries" in this case is supposed to refer to biological weapons or something, but my hunch is that we'll later learn that this is where the psychology angle mentioned on the book jacket comes in.  I mean, what use does psychology even have beyond ruining lives?

Four doctors - George Moulton, Hubert Sands, James J. Lufberry, and Stephen Thomas Methridge, or in other words a bunch of Anglo men, spent a century in a laboratory, doing research and extending their own lives.  When they emerged it was to to issue "a pronunciamento - backed with atomic and du-ray hand weapons and a thousand counter-toxins - which denied to the casual practitioner all specialized medical secrets."  Kinda like if at the end of World War II, a few immortal super-scientists with atomic death robots declared that they were outlawing technology more sophisticated than the horse and buggy in order to prevent something like it from happening again.

Against all expectations, this results in peace, and the Universal Medical Society recruits more "great names" until it numbers seven hundred members all operating under nicknames, patrolling the Empire to keep "medicine as well as disease within rational bounds," becoming "dreaded and revered as the Soldiers of Light."  I guess enforcing a dark age upon the rest of civilization would make you the forces of light by default.

So yeah.  A bunch of doctors who started by hoarding life-extending breakthroughs for themselves went on to invent weapons of mass destruction and decided to end a war by making sure nobody else knew enough about medicine to do the same.  They aren't beholden to any government, operate outside the law, and do what they want so long as it isn't "political," because who's gonna stop them?  And if you're very lucky and happen to cross paths with one and he's in a good mood, he may give you one of their wonderdrugs, but don't get your hopes up because it's a big galaxy and there's only one of them for every 108 billion mortals.  So if your family is all dying of some disease that the local, deliberately uninformed physicians are helpless to combat... well, at least medicine isn't being abused, eh?

I'll give Hubbard this - he has a knack for taking a vaguely horrifying premise and not only presenting it as something positive, but even heroic.

Back to Part Four


  1. Wow, I never thought how bad the very premise of these stories was. So basically these Soldiers of Light are a medical dictatorship?

  2. It's a horrifying premise, but reminds me of something that Frank Herbert got right with Dune and few other authors bothered to deal with, including Hubbard's Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth: any sufficiently advanced technology to include A.I. and dramatic life extension isn't also going to be feudalistic and slave-holding.

    In Dune, a war between the humans and the A.I. led to the outlawing of A.I. as a dangerous WMD, so they have all sorts of other sci-fi gadgets, but no robots. Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth have societies with the ability to build intelligent robots and drones, then inexplicably fail to use it in the most obvious ways.

    Hoarding life-extension technology and preventing the masses from getting access to it is really an asshole move, so good job to young Hubbard for coming up with that one. It's as if all the snake oil stories and conspiracy theories about suppressed cures for aging and diseases were actually true, and he's one of the handful of elitist jerks hoarding all the disease cures so that the general public, including all other doctors, don't get too powerful. Our heroes.

  3. If this book predates Dianetics, I doubt it's going to take a stand against psychology in general. Maybe the later stories do, after Hubbard became embittered against the entire medical profession and their professional societies (AMA, APA, etc.) for not finding any value in his made-up case studies and quasi-psychotherapy / hypnosis / personality cult and not taking Dianetics seriously like he expected them to.

    Hubbard had the exact same chip on his shoulder against academia for shunning him as a psychologist as Ayn Rand did after she wasn't taken seriously as a philosopher, like she fully expected everyone in academia to do after she published Atlas Shrugged and started her small personality cult of Objectivism.