Friday, July 29, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Five, part one - The Palmer or the Tiger?

Palmer reluctantly opens his eyes to find that yep, once again he's been transported to another man's body in a world of sailing ships and hideous marids, one of which is standing outside his cell with a spear "so sharp it tapered to nothingness rather than a point."  Don't you hate it when that happens?

But something's different this time.

"Now I'm for it," moaned Jan.

And he startled himself.

"Now I'll get the galleys."

He blinked and said it over again.  "Now I'll get the galleys."

Well, what galleys?  And how did he know there would be any galleys in the neighborhood?  Further, what reason did he have to think that galleys would be in use?

Yes, our main character isn't acting quite in accordance with his earlier behavior, and suddenly, mysteriously, knows things.  This has of course happened many times over the course of our journey through the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, but in this case the cause is something in the story, rather than the shortcomings of the story's writer.

So when Palmer sits up from his slumber he mutters stuff like "Let'm flog.  Let'm string me up by the thumbs.  But I'll see 'em all in hell before I'll haul an oar," and he calls the marid guard a "one-eyed farmer" in a dangerously dismissive tone to use when talking to such a brutish jinni, all while Palmer wonders whether he's delirious.  When the marid concludes that "Tiger"'s talk from the night before was all a big lie, Palmer acts more like Palmer as he insists he wasn't drunk and has no idea what this Isle of Fire he almost ran into was.  He's genuinely surprised when the marid talks about some of Tiger's escapades with Admiral Tyronin, even moreso when Palmer rolls back a pant leg to see burns and old scars from a battleaxe, proof that his flesh at least remembers what his mind does not.

The marid suggests it's a good thing that Palmer-Tiger is getting transferred to another ship, because the other crewmen of this vessel are still none too pleased with him for driving them onto that reef last night.  Sure enough, when more marids escort the prisoner topside, all the ship's humans are growling and glaring at Palmer.  Then there's several paragraphs of boat stuff.

Look, I'm sorry if you're into this sort of thing and want to know how the ship's lateen was set up on its mizzen and all that, but I'm not interested and none of this is relevant to the plot.  There's plenty of hot nautical action in the next book, but in this one we're about to get back to terra firma.  So I'll just say that the vessel Palmer finds himself on is an old ship from the early age of sail, with brass cannons and a flag of a golden bird on a scarlet backdrop.  The other ships in the harbor they're docked at are a diverse bunch, all captained by ifrits with marid soldiers and human crewmen.  So this probably isn't a port on Earth, is what we should take away from this.

The weird thing - well, the weird thing in addition to Palmer being in a world ruled by jinn - is that he somehow knows the names of most of the ships and sailors in this port, and grumbles to himself about probably getting assigned the Pinchoti, "the worst puller of the lot."

A werewolf, in his human identity, must often feel the beast stirring uneasily within him, threatening to spring forth uncalled.

Depends on the nature of the curse, I believe.  In some stories the poor schmuck is oblivious to his condition and blacks out during full moons, in others he's pretty wolfish no matter what the moon's doing.

More and more, as time went along, did Jan experience just that sensation, except that, in his case, it was more like that Malay demon, the were-tiger.

What, the harimau jadian?  According to Wikipedia that's a case of someone using sorcery to transform into a murder-kitty so he can better defend his plantation at night, or punish those who wronged him... which come to think of it may end up being a better comparison to Palmer's situation than the lycanthropy Hubbard's talking about.

Scholar that he was, he knew considerable [sic] about lycanthropy

Heh, yeah.  And "Arabianologists" at respectable universities have accumulated considerable evidence proving that civilizations of genies existed at one point in history.

but never in his life had he thought to experience such a thing, even in a reasonable way,

What is a reasonable way to experience any variety of therianthropy?  Do you make a weekend of it, put in a security deposit beforehand, check with your doctor to make sure you're in the right physical condition to transform into a were-beast?  Are there retreats you can go to?

but now, certainly, things were happening to him which he could not begin to discount.

I dunno, you could probably write all this off as an extremely vivid dream.

Were-Tiger was certainly the only name for it.

Mmm, not quite.  This will become clear as the story progresses.

He was vaguely conscious of latent wells of knowledge within him, of information which he could almost - but not quite - bring to the surface of his brain.  It was as though he had always known these things but was suffering, at the moment, a slight lapse of memory.

If only some visionary scientist-philosopher-spiritualist could come up with some sort of treatment that would allow people like Palmer to unlock their latent potential, for very reasonable rates.

Now, the narration says "wells of knowledge," but it forgot to mention the puddles of dickery.  Because Palmer notices a man working on a sail, and suddenly knows that the guy's called Lacy, and he's an unlikable coward.  And Palmer, who is not one for pranks, let alone normal jokes, suddenly notices that one of the marid guards has slung his musket on his back in just the right way for Palmer to pull the trigger and send a bullet whizzing right under poor Lacy, terrifying the man.

"Marvelous," chortled Tiger.

"No!  My God, no!" gasped the appalled Jan.

Nobody turns to him and stares at Palmer like a madman, so I'm not sure whether he's saying this aloud like the Gollum/Sméagol conversations from the Lord of the Rings movies.  On the other hand, no one reacts when Palmer covers his eyes with his hands so he can't see the object of temptation, so it could be that marids and sailors have a high tolerance for weirdness.

At any rate, Palmer - or perhaps Tiger - just can't resist, and quickly reaches out to pull the trigger of the guard's matchlock musket, and I guess when you have one of those you always keep a match going, even when you're carrying the gun on your back.  The musket jumps from the recoil and bonks a marid in the face, the bullet goes through the sail two feet away from poor Lacy, the sailor freaks out and ends up swinging from a rope fifty feet over the deck, all the other crewmen start laughing, the first mate starts bellowing, and a good time is had by all some.

The ifrit bosun, a Mr. Malek, starts roaring at Palmer and is about to bash his face in with the butt of a musket, but the human crew starts sticking up for him, insisting it was one of the stupid marids who misfired while playing with his weapon.  The ship's captain, finally given the name of Captain Tombo - a good Middle Eastern name, Tombo - puts an end to the disruption, and passes Palmer-Tiger-Whoever off to Boli, "a portly and foppish Ifrit who fanned the air before him with a perfumed handkerchief to fend off the odor of sailors."  And since this guy is ugly and kind of effeminate, it'll be okay to torment him.

Captain Tombo hands Tiger into Boli's custody and advises caution, since the guy has quite a reputation.  Boli agrees that this is a case that ought to go directly to the crown, then he and his guards and their prisoner start to load up in a little boat to take them across the harbor.  The human crew of the ship, their earlier animosity forgotten, give little encouragements like "Give'em hell, Tiger," and our protagonist grins back at them.  But Palmer is also feeling "things stirring inside him and was too frightened to think the matter through, afraid lest he discover another awful plot within him."  Yes, he's not quite out of dickery to perform this day.

To summarize nearly three pages of this chapter: while offering to assist M'Lord Boli as he boards the little boat, and while crying "Don't pull her in, you fools!", Tiger does something to make the boat capsize, something about a barge going under the ship's stage in the wrong way or whatever.  The important thing is that Boli ends up nearly drowned and Tiger gets to none-too-gently revive him with "artificial respiration" that nearly breaks the jinni's ribs.  It's... funny, I guess, and very satisfying.  This minor character we just met sure got taken down a notch, didn't he?  It could only be better if Tiger smeared spaghetti sauce all over his face in front of Boli's favorite actresses.

So all the human sailors, and even Captain Tombo, are quite happy to see a drenched fop.  Boli is furious, and rants that all of Tiger's heroic feats, like the rescue of Admiral Tyronin from the Isle of Fire or his actions during the Battle of Barankeet, none of that will save him from whatever charges are against him now.  Yes, Tiger is going before "the queen herself," a revelation that makes Palmer gulp and nervously fumble for glasses that are not on his nose.  But since this is such a long chapter, we'll have to meet Her Majesty next time.

You may notice I'm starting to refer to our protagonist more and more as Tiger instead of Palmer.  That's because, well, Tiger's really the hero of this story.  We had our one chapter with Palmer in Tiger's world, but from here on out, Palmer will have less and less influence on Tiger, to the point where even the narration will refer to the protagonist as Tiger instead of Jan.  Hubbard will try to say towards the end of the book that the personalities are mixing together to make a more balanced individual, but you'll have to judge for yourself whether or not that's true.

So I hope you enjoyed the novelty of an atypical Hubbard protagonist, because from here on out it's pretty much business as usual.


Back to Chapter Four

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Four - And Then Back to Prison

I'm not sure why the previous chapter ended when it did, because we go from Palmer being led into the depths of the ship to Palmer in the ship's brig.  If you're looking for a dramatic cliffhanger moment to end the chapter with, it'd be better to stick the first two pages of this segment with the previous chapter, so Chapter Four would start with Palmer waking up in his cell back in Seattle.

Also, I would have tried to keep Palmer's characterization consistent.  When he's finally locked in the brig he gets up and paces, going "round and round his small cell like a white rat spinning about a pole," so... why on earth would you...  Anyway, Palmer's terrified at his situation, but the narration tries to assure us that "He could stand a beating, perhaps, and even face a flogging without really cracking," except this flies in the face of the meek, weak Palmer we've seen developed over the first few chapters of this story, and specifically how Palmer shrieked from the first bite of the lash last time.

But anyway, "this situation was the stuff of which madness was made," who is this Tiger guy, if Palmer is now in Tiger's place where has Tiger gone, et cetera.  Palmer tries to convince himself that he's really still in his jail cell instead of a ship's brig, except he can hear all the sounds of a boat "hissing" through the water and "the sing" of the wind in the rigging - though there's no mention of the ship's motion making it quite different from a police station, oddly enough.  There's also the matter of Palmer's guard, a Marid with a twisted back, single cyclopean eye, and hoofed feet.  Now, according to Wikipedia, marids are in some traditions actually the strongest kind of jinn, even moreso than ifrits, but Hubbard must have been consulting a proper Arabianologist because in this setting the marids serve as the ifrits' flunkies.

Being on the verge of a mental breakdown is exhausting, so Palmer eventually collapses in his cot.

It was all too much.  And at last Jan dozed, drifting more deeply into slumber.

To no avail.

He had no more than shut his eyes when he was startled by the slam of iron-barred doors and the rattle of dishes which immediately followed.  Voices were hollow in the concrete hall and Jan sat up.  He looked carefully all around him.

It was no Marid at the door but a blue-coated policeman engaged in shoving a tray of food under the door. 

And that's where I would have started this chapter.  Now, you might argue that having Palmer go between the worlds of waking and sleep in the middle of a chapter helps show how seamless the transition is for him, except this is the only time Hubbard does this - for the rest of the book he likes the chapter and world transitions to go hand in hand.  So... yeah, I'd have done it differently, that's the point I'm trying to make.

Palmer actually spends some time elated that he's in a perfectly normal jail cell and tries to convince himself that the stuff on the boat was just a bad dream, until Diver Mullins reminds him that he's in for murder, forcing Palmer to accept that genies are in fact real.  Mullins spends a good fat paragraph waxing philosophical as he tries to cheer Palmer up - most people don't have the luxury of knowing how they're going to die, but Palmer's certain to be hanged, so he doesn't have to worry - but it's not terribly effective for some reason.  Then there's about a page of Mullins chatting with other prisoners about his "hophead" cellmate, but it's not very interesting so I'm just going to fast-forward to when Miss Hall shows up.

Other prisoners start calling out "Hiyah, Babe" and other incantations meant to get a female to remove her clothing and bend over, yet Alice Hall proves immune to their charms and arrives at Palmer's cell, "with a twinge of pity upon her lovely face as she stood taking off her gloves and studying Jan just as though she were about to begin an operation to change his luck."  Though if she is about to perform an operation, she ought to be putting the gloves on, and should properly snap them into place for dramatic effect.

Hall's not alone, and a jailer soon admits ol' Mr. Green the perfectly honest business executive, as well as a Mr. Shannon, Bering Steam's chief legal guy, who is plump and tries very hard to sound reassuring, so we know he's faking it.  Also he hopes to become a senator someday, and since we all know politicians are bad, he must be too.  And he has no real chin or nose, so his mouth looks like a shark's!  That's animal symbolism on top of all the other stuff!  God, I hate this guy already and all he's done is greet Palmer with a "Well, well, well my boy" while wondering "What are they doing to you?"

Palmer's not thrilled to see these dudes, and would rather have some quality time with Hall.  By which he means he daydreams about her having a "sit on that small stool and hear his flood of grief and then give him very sound advice in return.  Didn't her brave face have a tinge of pity in it?"

Yes, the previous "tinge of pity" description took place on the same page as this one.  I'm just not sure whether Hubbard is intentionally repeating himself or once again couldn't be bothered to look over his first draft to see if he gave any redundant information.

Green complains about all the negative publicity Palmer has dumped on the company, and has a newspaper with the headline "MILLIONAIRE SHIPOWNER SLAYS PROFESSOR," which is a bit unprofessional since Palmer hasn't been convicted of anything, only accused.  But journalists are bad guys too, we must remember.  Anyway, Shannon is here to get Palmer out of the slammer, and wants him to give them his version of last night's events, hence Miss Hall's presence.

We're spared actually seeing Palmer re-tell the story, we're just told he did so.  Now we're also told that he "Very wisely" doesn't mention everything that happened between him falling asleep last night and waking up this morning, and while I'll agree that adding "when I fall asleep I become someone else in a world of genies" on top of a story about how "an evil ifrit murdered a guy and left me to take to blame" wouldn't do Palmer any favors, I'm curious why he thinks sticking to his original account of what happened to Frobish is the best course of action in this situation.  The book doesn't explain his reasoning, and I doubt it's a matter of integrity since Palmer is willing to lie by omission about the sleep thing, so I dunno.

His story goes over about as well as can be expected, with Shannon delicately suggesting that Palmer "modify" his account when he gives it to the judge before assuring him that he'll put in a plea and get something figured out.  Green steps out to confer with the lawyer, leaving Palmer and Hall to have some alone time, provided they ignore Diver Mullins, who is politely sitting quietly in the corner of the cell.

Miss Hall seems surprised at Palmer when he declares "They don't believe me," and she gains "The shadow of a smile" when he insists that he wouldn't lie.  He starts to tell her about his weird not-dream, can't manage to get the words out, and the conversation somehow gets worse and Hall gets angry.  She concludes that there's nothing she can do for him at this point.

"But you were saying something," pleaded Jan.  "If you know anything that might help me..."

"Help you!  Nobody can help you!  Nobody will ever be able to solve your problems but yourself.  I've worked with your company long enough to know that you know nothing about it and care less.  You keep yourself locked up in your room, scared to death by an aunt, a secretary and the head of your father's firm.  You let Nathaniel Green do what he pleases with accounts - but why am I talking this way?  It can do you no good now.  I should have spoken months ago.  Maybe I was hoping you'd wake up by yourself and find out that you were a man instead of an infant.

Now if that sentence had come before Palmer's encounter with the jinni and dream weirdness, I'd have groaned at Hubbard's heavyhanded foreshadowing.  But since it's coming right after Palmer's first jump between worlds, even though it's more or less spoiling the story's conclusion, I think it works better.  I guess the dramatic irony of Hall's statement is balancing out the foreshadowing part of it.

Well, I say foreshadowing, but... we'll get to that later.  Suffice to say that things won't be quite as simple as Palmer's dream experiences as Tiger teaching him how to stand up to his domineering aunt.

But you haven't now, unless a miracle happens, you'll never have the chance.  There!  I've said it."

And that concludes Palmer's interaction with the cute girl he's hoping to impress.  It probably could have gone better.

Shannon and Green return, and the lawyer advises Palmer to plead self-defense in the case of the bisected occultist, but Palmer refuses to lie.  Green hides a smile when Shannon agrees to give Palmer's account to the judge, but he was probably just thinking of a funny video he saw on YouTube, and we shouldn't read too much into it.  And then they're gone, leaving us with two pages of Palmer talking with his cellmate, who is savvy enough to recognize that "the dame" is madly in love with him and would be all over Palmer if he just stopped being such a weenie, while those other two are a real "pack of wolves" who have Palmer right where they want him.

This all started just after breakfast, and nothing worth mentioning happens for the rest of the day.  At seven that evening, Miss Hall returns to let Palmer know that, shockingly enough, Shannon the lawyer has been unable to get bail for him, so it's another night in the slammer for our protagonist.  But she does have a care package for him, something that "Aunt Ethel... er... sent" for him.

Palmer thanks her for- wait, no, he just takes the goods and stares at his love interest until she breaks the silence by hoping he's not too uncomfortable, and it's only after she says she ought to get going that Palmer remembers his manners.

"Th-thank you for the package from Aunt Ethel and th-thank you for coming."

"I have to pass the jail to get home anyway," said Alice. "Good night."

"It's not like I'm giving you this stuff because I like you or anything, b-baka."

When Hall leaves, Mullins urges Palmer to open the box of goodies.  Palmer's barely interested since he expects Aunt Ethel just sent him his flannel pajamas, but is surprised to find it full of candies and toiletries and books and a new shirt and even "Houdini's textbook," presumably on escapology.  Poor, dumb Palmer has to have Mullins explain that Miss Hall was the one who packed it, not his evil auntie.  And man, she really has to be dedicated to the man she thinks Palmer could become if she's willing to support him after he's stuck in prison, stubbornly insisting that it was a genie who murdered that guy whose blood he was covered in, with a murder weapon covered in Palmer's fingerprints.  A lesser woman would have written Palmer off as a lost cause by now.

And that's it for this chapter, and Palmer's first real day in the slammer.  As the night goes on, he's forced to confront the fact that "there was a chance... the barest, barest chance... that he might be elsewhere the instant he closed his eyes."  Palmer tries to stay awake and stave off becoming that Tiger guy again, but as a time-traveling hedgehog once said, it's no use.

And by midnight he lost the fight.

He went down into the abyss of sleep, awakened instantly by the howl of winches and the cannonading of sails and then the grinding roar of chain racing through a hawsepipe.  He opened his eyes.

Well, this chapter ends with Palmer opening his eyes, but the next one begins with "Jan Palmer was afraid to open his eyes" for a paragraph before he lifts one eyelid to peek around.  I guess the upside of doing the dream transitions before a chapter break is that there's less chance of simple, easily-caught and corrected continuity errors such as this.

Seriously, Hubbard, learn to proofread.  Oh, that's right, you're dead.  Sorry for bothering you.


Back to Chapter Three

Monday, July 25, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Three - From Prison to Brig

Last time, on Dragonball Z, our heroes flexed and grunted for twenty minutes accompanied by cutaways to other characters remarking how powerful they were becoming.  Meanwhile in Slaves of Sleep, Jan Palmer endured a joyless family dinner, struck out with a cute stenographer, was rudely awakened by an occultist who broke into his home to break into a jar, and then learned that genies were a thing when an unbound ifrit expressed his gratitude by nearly bisecting his rescuer before cursing Palmer with "Eternal Wakefulness," leaving Palmer to be arrested for murder.

The narration insists that Palmer is just too stunned by these recent developments to protest as he's brought to a police station and led to a cell, but given the amount of backbone he's shown so far, I'm skeptical he'd offer much resistance even if he hadn't just seen a magical creature kill someone in front of him.  At any rate, Palmer isn't freaking out or anything, he's found a comfortable depression to sink into.

Seeing the cell and the cellmate and believing it was a cell and a cellmate were two entirely different things.  Jan sat down on a bunk and looked woodenly straight ahead.  He was in that frame of mind where men behold disaster to every side but are so thoroughly drenched with it that they begin to discount it.  It was even a somewhat solacing frame of mind.  Nothing worse than this could possibly happen.  Unlucky Fate had opened the bag and pulled out everything at once and so, by lucid reason, it was impossible for said Unlucky Fate to have any further stock still hidden.

Well, we've got a personified Fate again, though since this story predates Mission Earth I guess it's more accurate to say that this could be the genesis of Hubbard's melodramatic musings about an incarnation of predestination.  Also, the narration notes that the police station is crowded due to a "gang of counterfeiters," so that's familiar too.  Presumably they'll only be briefly detained before being executed.

The next three pages are all Palmer interacting with his cellmate, who goes through some distinct phases.  First there's the "That's my bunk" bit where he bullies Palmer into taking the drooping, stinking, pallet without any blankets.  Then there's the "What'd they baste you wit'?" bit where Palmer gets to explain that he's in for murder, only he didn't really do it, in fact it was a genie who picked up a sword and killed that man.  This talk of an "Igpit" confuses Palmer's cellmate, until he concludes the new guy is a "sniffer" like he used to be, and so the other prisoner decides to be a mentor of sorts.  He introduces himself as Diver Mullins, a pale, weaselly fellow who was arrested with $800 of another man's money in his pocket, and the narration tells us "There was no mistaking the evil in that face," we know he's a real bad guy.

Did Hubbard think that a handsome villain would confuse readers?  Thinking back, the only baddie who wasn't obviously weaselly or hideously deformed or just plain ol' ugly was Madison.

Mullins repeatedly proclaims that he doesn't doubt Palmer's story for a moment, but advises that our protagonist come up with something that will go over better with the judge.  But Palmer's too tired to really listen.  He thinks back on his encounter with Zongri and is "almost certain" that the jinni was speaking in Arabic, which Palmer doesn't know, but he was somehow still able to understand.  Then Palmer decides that "Perhaps it wasn't really Arabic," so... well, Hubbard, why'd you bring it up?  With this pointless train of thought abandoned, Palmer wonders about that curse of "Eternal Wakefulness," but isn't able to make much progress before nodding off.

The thing which happened immediately thereafter was the turning point in the life of Jan Palmer, for one - even beyond the effect of the murder.

I think it'd make more sense to bundle this with the murder, and just say that Palmer's life was turned upside down when that jinni escaped from its copper jar.

He went to sleep but he didn't go to sleep.

Don't groan, this sentence works, like going to the bathroom but not going to the bathroom.

He had a sensation of dropping straight down.  Heretofore he had been aware, in common with all men, of a delicious period of semi-wakefulness preceding and succeeding slumber.  But from that period he had always gone into a deep sleep (so far as he knew) or had come fully awake.  Now he felt as though the world had been obscured by a veil which no more than dropped than it was ripped startlingly aside.

Yes, Palmer is about to be confronted with the terrifying truth about the nature of reality.  You think you live in a world bound by rationality and science, but in fact...

A hail rang hysterically in his ears, "Breakers two points off the sta'b'd b-o-o-o-o-w!  B-r-r-reakers two points off the sta'd'b bow!  Captain, for the love of God, we're on the rocks!"

...you're really in a third-rate fantasy story, specifically on a boat, because the author was a sailor and wants you to know it.

Palmer has just enough time to realize he's holding a ship's helm before the boat crashes into a reef with an impact that "rocketed him all the way across the quarterdeck, from binnacle to scupper."  Sleepy crewmen stumble out of the fo'c's'le, sails are deployed so the ship "picked up a bone and scudded back into the safety of the sea," someone yells "Lively now," and I'm sure somewhere there's a reader whose soul is singing as the author paints a picture of an experienced crew working the properly-described rigging while an officer bellows authentic orders, but that reader isn't me.

Once the crisis is over and the ship is safely sailing through the night, its captain comes for the helmsman caught asleep at the wheel.  Said captain is an ifrit, huge and fanged with eyes of flame, and he keeps talking about some troublemaker named Tiger being responsible for it, even though it's Palmer he's kicking around.  How odd.

This gross dereliction of duty means that only a taste of the "cat" is a suitable punishment, and for an extra bit of sadism the condemned is sent to fetch it.  Oddly enough, Palmer goes along with this, even though he has to get directions to where the flail is stored, making other crewmen ask "Tiger" if he's ill.  The narration informs us that Palmer's head is still "roaring and spinning," probably so we'll conclude that he's so befuddled that he can't protest as he's ordered to retrieve something which will shortly be shredding the flesh of his back.  But again, I'm skeptical that Palmer would be capable of standing up for himself even in less confusing circumstances.

Palmer eventually finds the flail in a room amidst muskets and cutlasses, and though it's called a cat o' nine tails this one has twelve, and is so heavily-studded with brass that Palmer can barely carry it back to the captain.  He willingly removes his shirt, willingly bends over a rail, shrieks in agony after the first hit, and then Palmer is properly motivated to drop to his knees and beg forgiveness, stammering that he has no idea where he is and as far as he knows he just got here.  So either the threat of horrible pain wasn't quite enough to get Palmer to stand up for himself and he changed his mind after getting a taste of the lash, or else the blow from the flail knocked his backbone into working condition.

The jinni captain is quite astonished to find "Tiger, of all men, beggin' for mercy and lying in the bargain," before sending him below for a proper inspection - maybe getting thrown to the deck when the ship ran aground did something to Tiger's head.  Palmer lets himself in the captain's quarters and takes a moment to collect himself, only to be shocked again when he looks into the room's mirror.

Yes, now that he made a closer examination, it was himself.  But what a difference there was!  He, Jan Palmer, was a thin-faced, anemic fellow, but this brute who was staring back at him was bold of visage, brawny of arm, tall and... yes, he had to admit it, not bad at all to look upon.  

It's not gay if you think your reflection looks good, even if you don't fully recognize it.

But the knife scar which ran from the lobe of his ear diagonally to his jawbone... where had that come from?  He felt of it and peered more closely at it.  He didn't really object to it because it didn't mar his looks but, in truth, rather gave him an air.

Puzzled, he looked down at himself.  His blue pants encased very muscular and shapely legs.  His bare chest was matted with blond hair.  He looked back at his image as though it might solve the riddle for him.

At least he kept his pants on.

The captain, who will get a proper name two chapters from now, be patient, is flabbergasted that Tiger had the temerity to let himself into his quarters, though that might prove that there is something wrong with him.  He inspects the sailor's skull, threatens a terrible punishment if this is all a trick, and again is astonished when "Tiger" flinches back in fear.  Palmer tries to explain that the last thing he knew he was sleeping in a cell in Seattle, Washington, a port the captain has never heard of.  But when Palmer gets to the part of his story where a ifrit burst out of a copper jar, the captain realizes that Palmer is talking about Earth, and when Palmer mentions the name Zongri, the captain is astonished to hear that the old heretic has been freed.  And when Palmer says he got cursed with Eternal Wakefulness, the captain rants about Zongri's foolishness and how carelessly inflicting such a curse is just "like him."

So unlike in the "real" world, Palmer actually finds a sympathetic ear in this one.  Cap'n Nameless for the Moment gets Palmer to swear to keep these details to himself, and has him put in the brig under guard by a reliable marid - we'll get to those later too.  And so the chapter ends with our hero, once again, being escorted to a cell.

You can probably guess what that Curse of Eternal Wakefulness does by now, and if not don't worry, the book will explain it... eventually.  If you do have a guess of what this curse has done to Palmer, you won't be too shocked next chapter when we go back to Seattle.


Back to Chapter Two

Friday, July 22, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Two - A Big Genie Did It and Ran Away

The first sentence of the chapter does a great job of summing up our main character's existence: "Each evening, when the household was assembled at the dining table, Jan Palmer had the feeling that the entire table's attention was devoted to seeing whether or not he would choke on his next mouthful."  It's so darkly humorous and bluntly honest that I want to put a little gold sticker next to it.

We get about a page describing the difference between the former and current heads of the Palmer household.  Daddy Palmer bantered away with his family and guests before retiring to his study for the night, while Baby Palmer doesn't come close to filling his father's chair and presides over a silent meal, since he doesn't make conversation and everyone else keeps quiet as though "they all had secrets which they were fearful of giving away to each other."

And we also learn a bit about Palmer's economic situation.  The Bering Steamship Company isn't making much money, for reasons Palmer can't explain since he doesn't bother to look at its finances, while his share of its earnings mostly goes to his Aunt Ethel to cover "household expenses."  Green, the company's general manager, once again pesters Palmer to get some letters written this very evening, while also reminding him how things would be so much easier for everyone if he'd just give Green his power of attorney.  Palmer still doesn't agree to the latter, but is happy to work on the former.

It's not that Palmer loves to sit down at his desk and correspond all night long, he's much too important and rich to write letters by hand.  No, he rushes back to his room to take a quick shower because he's got a thing for Green's stenographer, a dame named Alice Hall who comes by a few nights each week to help Palmer handle the company paperwork.  Palmer is drawn to her not simply because she's pretty, but because she doesn't look down on him or make him nervous just by being around.  Which isn't to say that he didn't forget to breathe right the first time he met her.

Her large blue eyes were as impersonal as the turquoise orbs of the idol by the wall.  She was interested, it seemed, in nothing but doing her immediate job.  Still, there was something about her; something unseen but felt as the traveler can sense the violence of a slumbering volcano under his feet.  Her age was near Jan's own and she had arrived at the estate without leaving anything unlearned behind her.  There was almost something resentful about her, but that too was never displayed.

Er, right.  Not sure I'd be drawn to someone I think could explode on me at any moment and sear the flesh from my bones, or someone I suspected of well-hidden resentment, but to each his own.  Well, I say hidden, but Ms. Hall's true feelings towards Palmer come through as they talk about an upcoming conference.  Palmer's instinctive response is that he's much too busy to attend.

"I didn't think you would," she said unexpectedly.

"Uh?"

"I said I was sure you wouldn't.  They asked you but Mr. Green will go instead."

"He would want me to go," said Jan.  "He... he knows much more about it than I."

"You're right."

Jan detected, to his intense dismay, something like pity in her voice.  Pity or contempt; they were brothers anyway.

So for two hours Palmer and Hall - mostly Hall - craft letters until she finishes and gets up to go home and properly transcribe everything.  Palmer asks if she'd like to stick around for tea, or maybe he could drive her home, but Hall declines his offers and exits the scene, leaving Palmer to get mad at himself for making her think he's nothing but "a weak mouse, holed up in a cluttered room," before realizing that she's entirely right in doing so and sinking into both a deep chair and a deep depression.  Sometimes it's tough being a weenie.  If only there was some way to get Palmer to man up and take control of his life, some fantastical experience that could drastically and rapidly transform his character from that of a zero into a Hubbard Action Hero...

Palmer broods in his chair until the clock rings "two bells," because boats are awesome and Hubbard is going to cram as much nautical stuff into this story as he can get away with.  Eventually our protagonist falls asleep, only to suddenly wake some time later, "aware of a wrong somewhere near him."  Despite not wanting to, he turns on a lamp and beholds an open window as well as Professor Frobish, carving at the lead seal of that copper jar with a knife.

Frobish's eyes were hot and his face drawn.  There was danger in his voice.  "I had to do this.  I've been half crazy for hours thinking about it.  I am going to open this copper jar and if you try to stop me..."  The knife glittered in his fingers.

If this surprises you, then you've obviously never played any sort of role-playing game.  Since a character's Intelligence statistic dictates how many skill points they earn each level, it only stands to reason that an academic would have ranks in stealth and other intrusion skills in addition to their class-relevant skills.  You can only sink so much in Knowledge: Arabianology per level, y'know?

Frobish tries to reassure Palmer that his honor is secure, since after all it's Frobish doing to seal-breaking, while Second Cousin Greg was trying to protect Palmer from harm.  But Palmer is hit by "a sudden spasm of outrage."  He already takes so much crap from everyone, but now this loony mystic has broken into his one sanctum to break into the thing Palmer swore would never be opened?  This will not do.

All his repressed frustrations come to the fore, and Palmer advances on the knife-wielding scientist, even causing Frobish to back away.  Frobish babbles stuff like "This research is bigger than either you or me," while Palmer promises that if Frobish leaves now he'll let the incident pass, otherwise... well, Palmer doesn't go so far as to make a threat, he just whines that "This is my house and that jar is mine" and tries to snatch it away-

And Frobish floors him with one blow to the chin.  Welp.

Before the wimp fight can escalate further, it's interrupted by a sound like escaping steam as black fumes billow out of the ruptured seal of the copper jar, gathering against the room's ceiling while growing darker and heavier, moving as though with breath, until

Something hard flashed at the top of it and then began two spiked horns, swiftly accompanied by two gleaming eyes the size of meat platters.  Two long tusks, polished and sharp, squared the awful cavern of a mouth.  Swiftly then the smoke became a body girt with a blazing belt, two arms tipped by clawed fingers, two legs like trees ending in hoofs, split-toed and as large across as an elephant's foot.  The thing was covered with shaggy hair except for the face and the tail which lashed back and forth now in agitation.

It's odd how Arabian art and text leaves out the thick hair covering ifrits' bodies, but maybe Hubbard was consulting an Arabianologist when he wrote this description.

The thing knelt and flung up its hands and cried, "There is no God but Allah, the All Merciful and Compassionate.  Spare me!"

Jan was frozen.  The fumes were still heavy about him but now there penetrated a wild animal smell which made his man's soul lurch within him in memory of days an eon gone.

Hmm, do the Palmers have some Middle Eastern ancestry?  'cause a European having an ancestral fear of genies would make as much sense as a Chinese having an instinctive distrust of domovoi.

Frobish, recovered now and seeing that the thing was wholly on the defensive, straightened up.

"There is no God but Allah.  And Sulayman is the lord of the earth!"

Now in the intro I wondered just how thoroughly Hubbard researched the subject of jinn and infrits, but I'm pretty confident that he at least read one story from One Thousand and One Nights, because this part is remarkably similar to "The Fisherman and the Jinni:"

But presently there came forth from the jar a smoke which spired heavenwards into æther (whereat he again marvelled with mighty marvel), and which trailed along earth's surface till presently, having reached its full height, the thick vapour condensed, and became an Ifrit, huge of bulk, whose crest touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as a dome, his hands like pitchforks, his legs long as masts and his mouth big as a cave; his teeth were like large stones, his nostrils ewers, his eyes two lamps and his look was fierce and lowering. Now when the fisherman saw the Ifrit his side muscles quivered, his teeth chattered, his spittle dried up and he became blind about what to do. Upon this the Ifrit looked at him and cried, "There is no god but the God, and Sulayman is the prophet of God;" presently adding, "O Apostle of Allah, slay me not; never again will I gainsay thee in word nor sin against thee in deed."

But let's not call this plagiarism.  Maybe an homage, or perhaps this is just the script any jinn goes through after being freed from a jar after many centuries.

Frobish boldly states that "We care less than nothing about Allah, and Sulayman has been dead these many centuries."  Now that the genie has been freed, he expects goodies in return.  But the ifrit only laughs when he hears that Soloman/Sulayman is dead and gone, and introduces himself as Zongri, "king of the Ifrits of the Barbossi Isles."  He's had a lot of time to think about what'd he do if he were freed, you see, and decides to share it with Frobish.

"Mortal man, the first five hundred years I vowed that the man who let me free would have all the riches in the world.  But no man freed me.  The next five hundred years I vowed that the man who let me out would have life everlasting even as I.  But no man let me out.  I waited then for a long, long time and then, at long last, I fell into a fury at my captivity and I vowed - you are sure you wish to know, mortal man?"

"Yes!"

"Then know that I vowed that the one who let me free would meet with instant death!"

Well that's gratitude for ya. And also strikingly similar to what the genie in the aforementioned story said about his own imprisonment.

[...] "There I abode an hundred years, during which I said in my heart, 'Whoso shall release me, him will I enrich for ever and ever.' But the full century went by and, when no one set me free, I entered upon the second five score saying, 'Whoso shall release me, for him I will open the hoards of the earth.' Still no one set me free, and thus four hundred years passed away. Then quoth I, 'Whoso shall release me, for him will I fulfill three wishes.' Yet no one set me free. Thereupon I waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and said to myself, 'Whoso shall release me from this time forth, him will I slay and I will give him choice of what death he will die;' and now, as thou hast released me, I give thee full choice of deaths."

I mean, there's differences - the classic ifrit promises wealth twice, never gets around to offering immortality, and at least gives his would-be victim a choice of which death he's won.  But still.

Frobish is none too pleased to hear this, and points out that it was Palmer and his stupid oath that kept Zongri imprisoned, while if it weren't for Frobish the jinn would still be stuck in a jar.  But the ifrit refuses to go back on his word, snatches the professor when he tries to run, grabs one of the Malaysian kris, and... huh.  Okay, so a kris is a knife, a stabbing weapon more or less.  Kris were occasionally used in executions, but to stab the condemned a few times under the ribs so they'd quickly bleed out.  But Hubbard thinks of the weapon as a "great executioner's blade" capable of cleaving Frobish's corpse until it's "Split from crown to waist."  Maybe he consulted an Arabianologist on that too.

Palmer is understandably startled by this development, and when the ifrit gets him in its clutches, he asks - well, tells - well, "said" - to be let go.  When Zongri asks why, Palmer says that he wasn't the one who freed the genie, and it'd be awfully illogical for the genie to "kill a man for letting you free and then kill another for... for not letting you free."  Zongri considers this before agreeing, then asks if Palmer is "Mohammedan."

The ifrit's imprisonment couldn't have been that bad if he had a little radio or TV or whatever in that jar to let him know about the rise of Islam between his capture and release.

Since Palmer isn't aligned with Sulayman or Zongri's enemies, the ifrit decides not to kill him - well, that and the fact that he made no vow to do so.  But he does decide to hit Palmer with a sentence, that of "Eternal Wakefulness."  And then, with a great rush of noise, Zongri disappears for Mount Kaf.

And this leaves Palmer standing in a room with a nearly-bisected corpse and the bloody knife greatsword that did the deed.  Which Palmer proceeds to handle "with some wild thought of trying to bring the man back to life," moving the weapon off the corpse and shaking Frobish's shoulder before realizing this probably isn't going to wake him up.  Then he decides that he might want some company after all, but as soon as he puts his hand on the door, it opens to admit "Two prowler car man," and all the ancillary characters save for Miss Hall.  Apparently the foremost are cops, because they immediately arrest Palmer with the comment that "It's open and shut."

Yes, Thompson apparently heard voices in Palmer's study, didn't investigate but immediately sent for law enforcement, and didn't notice the voice of the third person in the room but did hear "the sound of the knife and then silence."  So it was a knife.  That nearly cut a man in half.  While being wielded by a being so enormous that Zongri had to walk on his knees to fit in the room.  Huh.

Anyway, Palmer tries to babble an explanation about the jar and Frobish breaking in through the window, but the cops tell him to save it for the sergeant, while Aunt Ethel is quick to sob and ask why her "poor boy" did such a horrible act, and Green starts pacing and ranting about the negative publicity this is going to cause.  Sure enough, a whole swarm of reporters shows up, and Aunt Ethel is eager to talk to them about the awful crime and how thankless Palmer is for committing it after all she's done for him.  What's left of Frobish eventually gets hauled off in an ambulance while Palmer gets to take a ride in a police car.

It goes without saying that nobody will wonder how a meek little thing like Palmer was able to cleave through most of Frobish, while using a knife of all things.  This may be a better story than most of Hubbard's offerings, but that doesn't mean it won't require a good amount of stupidity to function.


Back to Chapter One

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter One - Schrödinger's Jinn

You know, the first paragraph of this book does a decent job of letting us know what we're in for: it starts out strong, but the problems start compounding as it goes on.

It was with a weary frown that Jan Palmer beheld Thompson standing there on the dock.  Thompson, like some evil raven, never made his appearance unless to inform Jan in a somehow accusative way that business, after all, should supersede such silly trivialities as sailing.  Jan was half-minded to put the flattie about and scud back across the wind-patterned Puget Sound; but he had already luffed up into the wind to carry in to the dock and Thompson had unbent enough to reach for the painter - more as an effort to detain Jan than to help him land.

These first two sentences quietly establish our main character as someone who prefers a hobby to work, feels pushed around, and who would rather run away from his problems than confront them.  Not bad.  But Hubbard can't resist throwing in sailing terminology to impress us, so either we get to endure the gibberish or start paging through the Glossary of Nautical Terms helpfully included at the end of the book, next to a diagram of a fully-rigged sailing ship that points out which is the lower main topsail and which is the upper main topsail.  Because in a story about genies and magical seals and the true meaning of dreams, you want to cram in as much obscure naval jargon as possible.  Kinda like making a lot of references to 1930's Hollywood stars in what is ostensibly a satirical sci-fi spy drama set in the near-future.

Palmer does nautical stuff with his jib and halyards as he parks his boat, pretending that he can't see Thompson - Palmer's vision is fine, but he finds that a pair of spectacles "helped him in his uneasy maneuvers with mankind."  Thompson, who the next page explains is an "ancient bird of a secretary," doesn't relent, and reports that a university professor has been waiting to see Palmer for two hours now, it's disgraceful that Palmer is disrespecting such an honorable and learned man, what would his father say, etc.

"Do we have to go into that?" said Jan, fretfully.  "I don't like to have to talk to such people.  They... they make me nervous."

"Your father never had any such difficulty.  I told him before he died it was a mistake..."

"I know," sighed Jan.  "It was a mistake.  But I didn't ask to be his heir."

It's interesting that Hubbard is telling us about these characters through their dialogue rather than dumping a page or two of backstory on us, unlike most of the other stories seen on this blog.  But yeah, the gist of it is that twenty-seven-year-old Palmer the Lesser was unexpectedly dumped with the family shipping business after Palmer the Elder went off to that big L. Ron Hubbard novel in the sky, and unfortunately Palmer the Lesser has the business acumen of a cocker spaniel and the backbone of a jellyfish.  He'd rather play with his dinghy or mess around with his junk than manage other peoples' ships, but folks like Thompson keep bullying him to do things like interact with other human beings, and it's just terrible.

"I'm not going to see him," said Jan in the tone of defiance which already admitted his defeat.  "He has no real business with me.  It is that model of the Arab dhow.  He wants it and I can't part with it and he'll wheedle and fuss and..."  He sat down on the coaming and put his face in his palms.  "Oh why," he wept, "why can't people leave me alone."

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not even at the bottom of the second page of the story and our hero is already crying.

I'm not annoyed, though, this is pretty hilarious.  And quite refreshing after novel after novel of square-jawed, unflappable, interchangeable Hubbard Action Heroes.  But before you topple back in your chair from the sheer unreality of Hubbard breaking from his pulpy formula, steady yourself with the thought that Palmer isn't really the book's hero.  He might be a protagonist, but he's more of a co-star - our hero is the guy on the cover, and we'll meet him later.

But back to Palmer.  After getting scolded by Thompson for being such a baby, Palmer follows him up from the beach to the family mansion, which legally belongs to him but is ruled by his Aunt Ethel, a whiskered shrew of a woman who's still a bit upset about a recent probate court ruling.  She yells at him for getting saltwater on the rug, then for putting his hat on a table, to which Palmer can only reply "Yes, Aunt Ethel" and trudge off to his room.  That at least is unquestionably his, if only because it's filled with so many knickknacks that no one else wants anything to do with it.

Oddly enough, though, we don't get a good fat paragraph describing this room, instead Hubbard wants to talk about the guy who contributed to it, Palmer's father's cousin, who sailed all over the world and sent back spears and headdresses and "a truly beautiful blackwood desk all inlaid with pearl and ivory."  Which I guess is nice enough, but something still feels... holy crap, where's the gold?!  How can something be luxurious but tasteful if it isn't slathered with shiny yellow metal?

I'd question whether Hubbard really wrote this story, except later developments will make that abundantly clear.  Anyway, someone is already waiting in Palmer's room, Professor Frobish, an "Arabianologist" (a term that as far as I can tell Hubbard came up with on his own) from a nearby university.  He apologizes for his intrusion and the "great temerity" of taking up such an important person's valuable time, while Palmer focuses his attention on lighting his pipe.  Frobish blathers on about a valuable model while Palmer paces and daydreams about spending several days out on a sloop, until he suddenly realizes that the professor isn't really interested in the miniature boat on Palmer's desk - instead his eyes are drawn to something in the darkest corner of the room.

Though Palmer is a pansy, he's a cynical pansy who knows that "men never did anything without thought of personal gain and that when men reacted strangely they would bear much watching."  So he "wanders" over to where Frobish is trying not to stare too much, but can find nothing but some "ordinary" Malay kris knives and an ancient copper jar sealed with lead, and can't guess why this professor would want any of them.  When Frobish wraps up his speech about how much Palmer would be furthering science by handing over his favorite model ship, Palmer suddenly declares "I guess you can have it."  I'd say it's Palmer's attempt to get rid of the guy, but the narration informs us that all the while, our protagonist is "wondering why he had given up so easily."  So we might not have a dull action hero or gold everywhere - yet - but at least we've got characters doing things for unexplained reasons.

Frobish thanks Palmer for his donation, but doesn't quite see himself out, and continues to engage in excruciating smalltalk about all the interesting things in this room, such as - to pick something completely at random - that innocuous copper jar in the corner.  Palmer reveals that it was picked up by Greg Palmer, his second cousin.

"He--" Jan almost said, "He's the only friend I ever had," but he swiftly changed it.  "He was very good to me."

Aww, see?  Hubbard can make us sympathize with his characters.  And not just for having to put up with his other characters.

Palmer explains that second cousin Greg got the jar in Tunisia, and made Palmer promise to never open it.  Frobish compliments its craftsmanship and puts his hand on the doorknob to leave, but continues to stare at the jar and asks Palmer if he "ever had any curiosity about what it might contain?"  Palmer admits that he did, once, but he'd put it out of mind.  And then there's an awkward standoff interrupted when a "very officious little man" knocks and steps inside, Nathaniel Green, general manager of the Palmer family business.

Green's just here to complain about Palmer not answering his calls (because he's out boating), not giving him his power of attorney, and not spending any time at the office.  He dumps off some papers for Palmer to sign and then leaves as suddenly as he showed up.  Well, it's probably nothing worth dwelling upon, a pushy businessman trying to get a meek heir to rubber-stamp who-knows-what.

Now, back to Palmer and Frobish's stand-off over the jar.  Frobish admits that he's interested in "things which... well, which are not exactly open to scientific speculation."  Demonology, in other words, or at least "as connected with the ancient Egyptians and Arabs."  Not be confused with this modern occult "magick" crap.  What kind of pathetic sap would get interested in that?

Anyway, Frobish thinks this may be "one of THE copper jars."  You know.  Those jars.

"Very few people know much about the Jinn.  They seem to have vanished from the face of the earth several centuries ago though there is every reason to suppose that they existed in historical times.

Yeah, it's weird how you don't see many genies or dragons or fairies or youkai these days, but I mean obviously they existed at some point because otherwise why would we have so many stories about them?

Sulayman is said to have converted most of the Jinn tribes to the faith of Mohammad after a considerable war.  Sulayman was an actual king and those battles are part of his court record.  This, Mr. Palmer, is not a cupid's bow on this stopper but the Seal of Sulayman!"  Frobish was growing very excited.  "When several tribes refused to acknowledge Mohammad as the prophet, Sulayman had them thrown into copper jars such as this, stoppered with his seal, and thrown into the sea off the coast of Tunis!"

There's a small problem with this story.

The Seal of Solomon is a thing, and Sulayman or Suleiman would be the Arabic form of Solomon, who is of course a legendary figure from the Old Testament.  Except, well, Solomon was Jewish.  He lived some 1500 years before Islam got started, and while Muslim tradition holds that Solomon was able to command the jinn to do his bidding, there's nothing about the ancient king cracking down on the spirits for not bowing down to a prophet who hadn't been born yet.  One Thousand and One Nights does mention Solomon stuffing jinn in bottles in "The Story of the Fisherman," but the genie in it was canned for not recognizing Solomon as the prophet of the time, not because he didn't convert to Islam a thousand years early.

Also, parts of that story will look really familiar in fourteen pages.

Anyway, Palmer's reaction to this bombshell is "I know."  But he gave his word to his second cousin, see?  So no, he's not going to open the jar and see if there's a bound demon stuffed in it.  He can in fact resist the maddening urge to break that beautiful, shiny seal, that jolly, candy-like seal that is all that stands between him and confirmation that the supernatural exists.

Frobish is, perhaps understandably, incredulous that Palmer won't pop the cork to see what vintage of spirit his second cousin brought him, and spends nearly a full page in a feverish rant delivered in a bloated paragraph.

"You can't be human!" cried Frobish.  "Don't you understand the importance of this?  Have you no personal curiosity whatever?  Are you made of wax that you can live for years in the company with a jar which might very well contain the final answer to the age-old question of demonology?

Well, an answer.  I guess a genie in a bottle might prove that some demon-like entities exist, but then you'd have to figure out which of the rest of the world's cultures got it right when they talked about devils or oni or whatever.

For centuries men have maundered on the subject of witches and devils.  Recently it became fashionable to deny their existence entirely and to answer all strange phenomena with 'scientific facts' actually no more than bad excuses for learning.

Yeah, babble all you want about ions and electrical charges, but I know the truth about Zeus trying to smite you suckers with his heavenly thunderbolts.

Men even deny telepathy in face of all evidence.

Evidence such as...?

Once whole civilizations were willing to burn their citizens for witchcraft but now the reference to devils and goblins brings forth only laughter.

Once whole civilizations thought it was okay to treat people like livestock because they looked different, or marry off children to total strangers to seal a business deal.  I don't think we're less wise for abandoning these practices.

But down deep in our hearts, we know there is more than a fair possibility that such things exist.

This is starting to remind me of Fear.  But don't worry, we won't spend the whole book in suspense over whether the things Palmer is experiencing are real or the result of a tropical illness.

And here, man, you have a possible answer!  If all historical records

Of religious myths.

are correct then that jar contains an Ifrit.  And if it does, think, man, what the Jinn could tell us!  According to history, they were well versed in all the black arts.  Today we know nothing of those things.  Most of that knowledge was from hand to hand, father to son.

But evidently enough survived for people like Frobish to get interested in it.

What of the magic of ancient Egypt?  What of the mysteries of the India of yesterday?

Those aren't Arab or Muslim cultures, bro.  I mean, modern Egypt is, ancient Egypt wasn't.  Kind of odd for an "Arabianologist" to make that sort of mistake, but he seems to think that King Solomon was a Muslim before even the birth of Christ, so...

What race in particular was schooled in their usages?  The Jinn!  And here we have one of the Jinn, perhaps, entombed in this very room, waiting to express his gratitude upon being released.  Do you think for a moment he would fail to give us anything we wnated in the knowledge of the black arts?"

I like how Frobish is assuming Palmer is as interested in all this magical garbage as he is.  For his part, Palmer hadn't even considered this sort of reward, but argues that after this many centuries, any ifrit in that jar has to be dead.  Frobish counters that "Toads have lived in stone longer than that!" and continues to rave that he'd sell his very soul for a chance to pop open that jar, but it's no use.  Though Palmer is willing to be pushed around by everyone when it comes to matters of business or even his domestic life, this is the one thing he will not compromise on, and he will not break the oath he made to his dearly departed second cousin,.  Even when Frobish starts begging him or complaining that he's rich enough to have anything he'd ever want, Palmer doesn't relent.

"I have nothing.  In all things I am a pauper.  But in one thing I can hold my own.  I cannot and will not break my word.  I am sorry.  Had you argued so eloquently for this very house you might have had it because this house is a yoke for me.  But you have asked for a thing which is beyond my power to give.  I can say nothing more.  Please do not come back."

And so Frobish can only leave in defeat, so flummoxed that he forgets to take that model dhow.  Unfortunately Palmer's victory is undermined somewhat when the narration suggests that it was partly due to the fact that, unlike Aunt Ethel and Green and Thompson, Professor Frobish hadn't been pushing Palmer around since his childhood, which means that if Frobish went to one of those people to argue on his behalf, Palmer would crumble.  But for now, our protagonist has defended his personal honor, so hurrah!

But for how long?  Palmer is meek but no fool, and he knows that this isn't the last he'll be seeing of Professor Frobish.  So tune in next time, when we see the last of Professor Frobish.


Back to the Introduction 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Let's Dream of Genies

There's something almost tragic about Hubbard the writer, if you think about it.  If you go by some of his book's forewords, this is a guy who wants to be a visionary science fiction author and help lead humanity forward, inspiring people to explore the unknown and make breakthroughs and so on.  Except he's constantly undermined in this endeavor by his own lack of scientific knowledge, so he can't give his stories a foundation in realism that aspiring scientists can build upon, so at best he's trying to entertain people with yarns that adapt old stories about naval combat or swindling real estate moguls to a futuristic setting.

We might wonder, if Hubbard's non-sci-fi works such as Final Blackout or Buckskin Brigades don't have these fundamental problems and were merely lackluster, why he persisted in the genre.  We might ask why Hubbard never embraced a literary genre in which you don't have to try to ground things in science and explain how they work, where you don't necessarily have to construct a reasonable and realistic world for your story to take place in.

I'm talking about fantasy, of course.  I've already gone over Fear and how it might be Hubbard's least bad novel - while its mystery angle ended in a cop-out and some of the stuff meant to be spooky was instead goofy, other parts of it were pretty effective.  And then there were those pulp stories like "If I Were You" and "The Last Drop," which were silly but harmless, in contrast to stuff like Spy Killer that was nonsensical despite being a much more realistic story.  But - at least if you go by the foreword for Battlefield Earth - Hubbard was more interested in describing himself as a pioneer in "pure" science fiction instead of those sort of stories where a hero picks up a magic sword and immediately knows how to use it.

So yeah, it's kind of sad, like a mostly-competent drummer who persisted in pursuing a career as a vocalist despite having a terrible singing voice.  It'd make Hubbard sympathetic were it not for the, y'know.  Everything he did outside of writing crappy books.  And some of the things he put in his crappy books.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the next book we're looking at belongs to that "hey, it doesn't suck," camp, or more specifically the "okay it could definitely be better and parts of it are pretty weak but overall it's not that bad especially when compared to Mission Earth 'cause sweet Christmas" camp.

Slaves of Sleep first appeared in a 1939 issue of the magazine Unknown, and was eventually published in book form in 1948.  Wikipedia classifies it as a "heroic fantasy," a tale of swashbuckling heroes and hideous monsters and fair damsels to rescue, though this doesn't tell the whole story, as a good portion of it is also set in the then-present day.  Two years later Hubbard published a sequel, Masters of Sleep, and... well, we'll examine it in due time.  But if you missed the craziness of Mission Earth while going through Hubbard's earlier works, just be patient.

The cover at least makes it clear what we're in for - we've got our good-looking, blond (of course) hero raising a curved sword, and brandishing some sort of bracelet that glows with power... huh.  I thought it was a ri- well, we'll get to that.  Coiling around him is some fanged, horned, demonic-looking brute whose legs trail off into a sickly green vapor wrapped around our hero, an entity who can only be a genie, as reinforced by the domes and minarets of the arabesque architecture in the distance behind them.  Judging by the streams of fire shooting from this genie's fingertips he's not to be trifled with, but our hero is either stalwart and determined in face of this threat, or is happily oblivious to the thing looming behind him and ringing him with smoke and flame.

The back cover doesn't offer a plot summary, but instead quotes the section of the story describing the first appearance of the monster on the cover, and since we'll get to that soon enough I won't repeat it now.  There's also the usual array of blurbs raving about the book.  Anne McCaffrey says it's "The story I remember best by a master of adventure," which indicates she never read Mission Earth.  Ray Bradbury claims to have stayed up all night to finish the book, which "scintillated," while Gregory Benford calls it "A fast fun read!  Possibly Hubbard's best."  And I don't think I disagree.  Robert Bloch think it's "Exciting and entertaining!" which may be going too far, Roger Zelazny is more poetic and says the book "sparkle[s] with dreamdust," which if nothing else is technically true, and the Cincinnati Enquirer claims it "outdoes the Arabian Nights in thrilling action and unusual situations," which to my shame I cannot dispute because I haven't read that particular literary classic.  The thing's available for free online, so I should probably fix that.

The inside flap of the book jacket has our plot summary - a millionaire named Jan Palmer gets cursed by a genie and ends up with a dual existence in his world and a land of fantasy - but oddly enough this only covers Slaves of Sleep and not the stories as a duo.  There's also a map of the Land of the Jinn which I can barely read because my copy came from a library and removing all the stickers would tear up the pages.  I can tell you that there's an area on the map marked "The Main Channel through FRYING PAN SHOALS," and the last person who checked the book out did so in 2010.

After that is a Publisher's Note, which is both one page long and pretty businesslike, in comparison to the rambling forewords in some Hubbard books or the gushing descriptions of the Golden Age of Pulp Literature in other collections.  The note only mentions when these stories were first published, which takes all of two paragraphs, then the rest of the page is spent describing Hubbard as a prolific and most excellent writer, who later did Mission Earth "(a set of 10 books)" which along with Battlefield Earth "continue to appear on bestseller lists throughout the world," and if a lot of people are buying them the books must be good, right?

After a list of other Hubbard works, the table of contents, and a title page, we get a Preface by the man himself, "A word... to the curious reader."  Guess it's a dramatic pause?  Or maybe an ironic pause since it's over a page long.  Most of it is a quote from Washington Irving asserting that "mystic powers" such as the signet of Solomon the Wise still exist, and readers should "substitute faith for incredulity and receive with honest credence the foregoing legend."  Hubbard doesn't properly source it, but the passage comes from Irving's The Alhambra, specifically right after Irving spends a page describing the Seal of Solomon and its powers.  And I'm suspicious.

Hubbard here is recommending some further reading about the subjects he uses in this story, and advises us to "look to Kirker's Cabala Sarracenica" for more on the Seal of Sulayman (no, that's not a typo, be patient).  Except the Cabala Sarracenica is also cited by Irving in his book's section on the Seal, and since the only things on the internet I can find about that Cabala are quotes from Irving's book or Hubbard's book, I'm not convinced it actually existed.  Maybe Irving was doing what H.P. Lovecraft liked to do and made up a source to make his fiction sound more scholarly and real.  In which case Hubbard is citing someone else's source without reading it or even confirming that it exists, like a lazy student padding their Works Cited section with the sources used in someone else's paper.

Now, I could be wrong, and maybe Hubbard actually did some careful, considerate study of Middle Eastern legends and mythology, and Kirker's book exists and has just been overlooked by Wikipedia and Google.  Except Hubbard goes on to talk about "genii (or more properly Jinns, Jinn or Jan)" and claims that such entities were so well-known that "it is the root for our word 'genius.'"  And since all the sources I've checked hold that "genius" has roots in Latin (specifically in genii, divine guardian spirits), while "jinn" derives from a Semitic word meaning "to hide," my conclusion is that Hubbard is in fact full of crap and does not know what he is talking about.  Try to hide your shock.

So I'm a bit skeptical when Hubbard derides "The Arabian Nights Entertainment" (which Wikipedia tells us was the name given to the first English translation in 1706) as an "insipid children's translation" that gave us "a very imperfect idea of the Jinn," and even more so when he says Burton's translation is more recommended but "a forbidden work," rarely found in the US save for places like the New York Public Library, "where the wise librarians have devoted an entire division to works dealing with the black arts."  If he'd claimed that Miskatonic University had an original copy, well, I could believe that.

Man is a very stubborn creature.  He would much rather confound himself with "laws" of his own invention than to fatalistically accept perhaps truer but infinitely simpler explanations as offered by the supernatural - though it is a travesty to so group the omnipresent Jinn!

Group the Jinn as "the supernatural," you mean?  Huh?  What's such a travesty about calling a bunch of magical genies unnatural creatures?

And so I commend you to your future nightmares.

Another case of Hubbard being technically correct - use number six of "commend" as listed by Wiktionary is "to force in a mental way" - if not quite right for the situation.  Dammit man, I just talked about how this story doesn't suck as bad as your other stuff and here you are making me second-guess myself.

Tune in next time when we start this fantastical journey into a land of magic and mystery and monsters.  Hopefully we won't go aground on those Frying Pan Shoals.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Final Blackout - Turning Out the Lights

So now that the shock and horror, or whatever, of losing our beloved main character has worn off, what can we say about Final Blackout?  Other than "what was the final blackout?" or something like that.

Instead of building an essay from the ground up, I think I'll let the back of the book guide my thoughts.  So let's take it from the top.

FINAL BLACKOUT
A chilling future war novel by
L. RON HUBBARD

"Future war?"  Hardly.  Post-apocalyptic, maybe, but there's nothing really futuristic about any of the combat in this story, aside from maybe that bullet-proof cape Lefty wears, which real-world militaries never got around to creating for some reason or another.  The fighting is very much still rooted in World War I, with rifles and gas masks and artillery, and squad support weapons are the only automatic weapons around.  Though the Great War also had tanks and planes, which are only present as rusting wreckage by the time of the story, so if anything warfare has regressed to something out of the Napoleonic era.  I'm still surprised there weren't any cavalry charges or regular use of mounted scouts and messengers.  Lefty prefers eating horses to riding them, I guess.

A vivid action-packed tale of a man born and bred for war. You will remember "the Lieutenant" long after reading this gripping story of leadership and valor.

Well, parts of the book were vivid, those sections I highlighted where Hubbard did a decent job of describing the ruins left by war, and I guess there was a lot of fighting in the story, which counts as action.  But was it "gripping?"  No.  See, when your main character is a tactical genius who handily wins every battle (save his heroic sacrifice, obviously), it's not terribly interesting to read about those victories.  Time after time we see Lefty out-think his (stupid) opponents, time after time Hubbard drubs us over the head with how Fourth Brigade are real soldiers and hardened survivors and so forth, and time after time we're treated to battle reports in which the good guys wipe out forces that outnumber them many times over while taking only a handful of losses in response, nameless casualties that didn't impact the brigade's performance in any way.  And since there's no real threat posed by the bad guys, it's hard to find the "valor" in the fight against them, even without considering how Lefty overthrows his home government to set up a fascist regime.  Excuse me, "soldier government."

As for Lefty's leadership, well, Hubbard seems to have gotten it into his head that the best kind of officer makes his men as well-supplied as possible, which is the main thing that sets Lefty apart from the bad guys, so by that metric yes, he is a great leader.  He seems to get along well with his men, which is to say that they have a fanatical devotion to him... but since we start the story with Lefty already having led Fourth Brigade through war-torn Europe for several years, we don't see how this relationship developed.  When Lefty takes on new soldiers, they just instantly adore him.  When he takes over England, everyone instantly adores him.  It's either incredible leadership or some sort of mind control.

Will we remember "the Lieutenant" for the rest of our meaningless lives?  What is there to remember?

Not his military genius, Lefty's not particularly clever.  He wins his first on-page battle by sneaking behind the enemy via a hidden tunnel and taking advantage of the fact that they didn't post enough sentries watching their rear.  He conquers a subterranean village by blocking its chimneys until it surrendered, taking advantage of the only access point to the buried structures.  He did absolutely nothing to capture the British field HQ besides take credit for his men's success.  His campaign in England proper was won due to having artillery ("worthless stuff") that outranged and outperformed the opposition's, and his enemy's incompetence - their willingness to try to chase down boats on foot, their lack of any lighting that would allow them to see Lefty's fleet move at night, and their eagerness to follow a feigned retreat into a killzone.

And apart from this tactical skill, what is there to say about Lefty?  He's distinct from lesser leaders in that he doesn't want to throw away his men uselessly, I suppose.  He has a disdain for anyone higher in the military hierarchy than him, and for anyone outside of that hierarchy like civilians.  He doesn't like "creeds" but doesn't believe in anything himself.  He plays solitaire to pass stressful moments.  Grins in un-funny situations.

Not a lot of depth for a main character, in other words.  I think the most memorable thing about him is that Hubbard never gave him a proper name, and I suppose that's something when compared to the author's other action heroes.  Pop quiz, was Tom Bristol the protagonist of Spy Killer, Under the Black Ensign, "Space Can," or "The Beast?"  But from now on when I mention the Lieutenant at least you'll know who I'm talking about.

I'm skeptical that anyone would have their imaginations captured by this character to the point that they wrote poems in his honor, but if I've learned nothing else in my life it's that people will find ways to disappoint me.

"...compelling... riveting... Hubbard's best..."
Publisher's Weekly

I think I just made my point about how uninteresting this book is.  We never really bond with any of its characters, there's nothing at stake when they're put in danger, and we never get a good look at the cruelty or incompetence of the communist government so there's no triumph when Lefty takes over.  And while the book may lack some of the fundamental problems of Hubbard's later works - he's not yet working his conspiracy theories into the plot, for a start - I wouldn't call it better than Fear, and I think the book I'm sporking next is a better candidate for Hubbard's magnum opus.  Or at least the first part is.  Or at least the first part of the first part is.  And it still has plenty of problems.  But we'll get into that in a week or so.

"FINAL BLACKOUT is as perfect a piece of science fiction as has ever been written."
Robert Heinlein

Is this a polite way of saying it's average?  Don't tempt me to put Starship Troopers up here, Heinlein, or your weirder stuff, you kinky bugger.

"...a gritty imaginative tale of survival and heroic leadership that is a
chilling prophecy for our time."
Greg Dinallo
author of "Rockets' Red Glare"

Is Final Blackout prophetic?  Certainly not when it was first published in 1940, this conflict doesn't look anything like World War II.  We happily cannot say for certain whether this resembles a nuclear war, but my guess is that one would look substantially worse than this.  Hubbard treats atomic bombs as simply very big, destructive weapons in this story, leaving behind patches of residual radiation but no lasting ecological consequences.  Plagues of disease and insects seem to be the bigger problem in Hubbard's setting.  And then there's that whole mess about how America is all irradiated but still recovered enough to forge an empire that spans half the planet, which really doesn't feel realistic.

But I guess the only way to know for certain is to provoke an atomic war with someone and see how quickly we can rebuild to the point where we're conquering South America and Asia to alleviate our overpopulation problem.

"Dynamic and vivid, L. Ron Hubbard's FINAL BLACKOUT fills us
with the legacy of war - dusty, honor and death."
Col. Edward G. Gibson
Skylab Astronaut and author

Hmm.  Well, Lefty gets the "death" part in at the very end, unusual for a Hubbard hero, though maybe he felt martyrdom was more appealing or appropriate for Lefty.  I guess he's honorable in that he gets along with enemy officers, but I still think any points gained from that would be lost to the deductions resulting from how Lefty treats neutral villages.  And he's dutiful in that he follows the stupid commands of his stupid superiors up until the point that his men mutiny, and then Lefty decides it's his duty to liberate England.  Except he more accurately conquers it himself instead of restoring some ousted civilian government, but don't worry, he did that out of a sense of duty toward his command, which he decided included the whole country.

"A damn good story!"
Jerry Pournelle
co-author "The Mote in God's Eye"
Editor of "There Will Be War"

Why is "co-author" not capitalized like "Editor" is, and where is the "of" after it?

"A chilling and lucid picture of the effects of incessant warfare."
The Kirkus Review

Is it?  I suppose Europe in this setting feels war-torn enough, with plenty of ruins for Lefty and company to pass through on their way to the next plot point, with a few hidden towns scattered here and there.  The author talks about the breakdown of society and shows how furniture and such is improvised from military (and only military) equipment instead of being made by experts.

The problem, however, is that this is a story focusing on a military company as it moves through unfriendly territory to its next engagement.  Aside from the buried village in Chapter III we never get a good look at what life is like for ordinary people - take that bit out and the story wouldn't feel any different from one set during World War II, devastation that resulted from less than a decade of Hitler rather than a full generation of atomic and post-atomic conflict.  So we only see the effects of an apocalypse on a group of soldiers, and whaddya know, it looks pretty similar to the sort of difficulties they'd go through in a "normal" war.  The main differences are that they don't have a working radio to keep in touch with their superiors, and the towns they "liberate" are even crappier than usual.

In a way, Final Blackout's setting is both too pessimistic and too idealistic.  Like, you'd think after twenty or more years of fighting, and especially after a nuclear exchange set civilization back a century, that leaders might be eager to pursue a peace treaty so they could focus on clearing the mutants from the glowing ruins of their capitals, but Hubbard has them stupidly fighting on over... what was the British Army doing in France, anyway?  Something about creeds, undoubtedly, and not anything specific such as the assassination of an archduke or the annexation of a neighboring country.  No, everyone's willing to keep slugging at each other over differences in government until everything is rubble and it's up to a man like Lefty to make things better.

And then, after decades of ceaseless fighting, after the nukes have left entire stretches of countries uninhabitable, everything bounces back pretty quickly.  All those bug-resistance crops just so happen to emerge in England right after Lefty conquers it, there's no resistance to his soldier government and all the citizens are just thrilled to be ruled by him.  And that's not getting into how America went from nuclear shooting gallery to a global empire with millions and millions of surplus citizens.

The story is internally lucid and operates according to Hubbard's view of the world, but should seem a bit incredible to everyone else, is the point I'm trying to make.  And since the events portrayed in the book seem unlikely, it's hard to be frightened by them any more than it is to be afraid that dragons will destroy our country.

So, to wrap this up, what is Final Blackout, then?  I'd call it "mediocre."  It's unexciting and unexceptional fare as science fiction goes, with flat characters and dumb villains and no dramatic tension.  It's only interesting when the author offers explanations for the causes of conflict and the proper form of government, which are stupid and worryingly fascist, respectively.  It's only real value is as another case study so we can better chart its author's literary career and what about his outlook changed over his life.

And by that measure, Final Blackout is more competently-executed than Hubbard's later works, and not quite as crazy.  The downside of this is that it isn't as interesting to read as the crazy, incompetent stuff.  But hey, at least we got to see Hubbard dabble in military fiction after all those rocket ships, pirate ships, and body-swapping midgets. 


Back to Chapter X

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Final Blackout - Chapter X - The Final, Final Blackout

If you remembered that Lefty wasn't the only person in that throne room and were wondering why his junior officers didn't react to his capitulation, they were just saving it for this chapter.  Swinburne is the fiery idealist who is shocked that his hero would willingly "give up everything for which we have worked these past two years, to be swallowed up in a beehive of humanity from alien shores," while Carstair is the pragmatist who points out that the US is the most powerful nation on the planet.  Swinburne just don't care - he's furious at Lefty for handing England over to an incompetent turncoat like Victor, and thinks it would be "Better to be wiped out in a blood bath than to quit like cowards."

So basically the dilemma a lot of peoples faced when the British showed up looking for a place to plant their flag, in other words.  I'm not sure if this is conscious irony on Hubbard's part - surely he'd be pointing it out to us if it was, right?

Before Lefty can answer Swinburne's outburst, Mawkey comes in along with a Captain Thorbridge from Sheerness, who gives a report on the American battleship.  It's a six-hundred-foot-long monster, well-armored, fully-submersible, capable of running itself.  It's got a hangar bay for planes and instead of traditional cannons, has "rocket shells" that "go up out of chutes and they fire at any range up to a thousand miles."  Sort of like rockets, you could say.

A still-depressed Lieutenant uses this as further evidence that there's nothing they can do but bow to the Americans' demands.  Swinburne stops trying to argue, but continues to complain about how Victor and Smythe will "revive all the creeds and claptrap that we once had" if given power, and they should've at least tried to negotiate their surrender to American imperialism so that those two wouldn't be around to mess everything up.  And that's a fair point - Lefty could have agreed to accept the Americans' "mercy" if they handed over Victor and Smythe to be executed.  The Americans would have little reason to not accept this, since they don't really owe anything to the political exiles, and if they got the Lieutenant to go along with their plan they'd get a wildly popular puppet leader instead of some incompetents who were kicked out of England following a regime change.  They'd have to be really stupid to insist that Victor and Smythe are the only acceptable stooges.  Like, Hubbard Villain stupid.

Swinburne's still being oppositional, though, and is skeptical that the Americans will act in good faith.

"Fairly!  They're afraid to leave you here!" snapped Swinburne. 

Why?  Were they just totally awed in the one meeting they had with our hero, in which he took a firm stand against them only to crumble in the face of their threats?  Or have they been listening to Victor and Smythe on the trip over and know how terrible Lefty is, in which case we might ask why they were so surprised to see him running England?

And then he considered what he had just said and came back to the desk.  "The first duty of any officer is to his command, Lieutenant.

It really undermines the gravity of the situation when these characters can only refer to our hero by his rank/title.  Wouldn't it add an extra punch for Swinburne to finally break protocol and refer to Lefty by his first name, as a way of showing just how worried he is for his friend?

This nation is just as much your command as your brigade ever was.  I've never heard it said that you neglected that brigade.

Yeah, Lefty's obsession with cramming as much food and crap into his soldier's packs as physically possible seems to be a large part of what Hubbard thinks makes him such a great leader.  I guess his sergeant back in the National Guard didn't give him enough snacks or something.

Oh, should go back to the dialogue, Lefty's making a speech.

"You talk like that Frisman," said the Lieutenant tiredly.  He sat up a little straighter then.  "I've never neglected my command.  To do other than grant the wishes of these people would be to wipe out England completely.  They ask only for an incident to take us over for a colony.  Can't you see that?  Only if our government here behaves perfectly can we stave off becoming part of another nation.

What about this "soldier government" is particularly English, anyway?  If the Americans made it a colony, what would change?  Would they force the people to vote for senators instead of doing what a cadre of junior officers told them?  A horrifying thought.

So long as we can prove ourselves to be acting in the best interests of everyone, there will be no excuse whatever for them to assimilate us.  We must see that this government acts in good faith, that it is fairly conducted for all, that no incident will occur which will permit them to establish martial rule here.

You've already put England under martial rule.

Please," he said, slumping back, "please remember what I said."

Swinburne is still disgusted with Lefty, and says "three years of peace have turned into putty!"  Which is confusing, because I thought he said Lefty had been ruling for two years just a few pages ago.  Lefty surmises that Swinburne is going to call together a council of officers... um, this is not to be confused with a soldier's committee or anything, we all know those are bad.  Anyway, Lefty tells Carstair to tell them that "I am to have this evening.  They will have all the tomorrows."  They need to follow Victor and Smythe's orders, for the good of the country.  Carstair balks at this and exclaims that there's no way the others will do this - "We are field officers!" - and is afraid that the first order the exiles will give is for Lefty's execution.  But Lefty's still being all heroic and self-sacrificing.

"I care nothing for these things; I am only thinking of my command - for when the command is destroyed the officer also dies.  But, one way or another, an officer lives so long as his command lives.  Go now, Carstair, and tell them what I say."

This would be more meaningful if the name of Fourth Brigade's previous leader hadn't appeared exactly once in this story, on an old bit of luggage.

So Carstair is all afraid for his hero but leaves to relay his command.  After that, Mawkey shows up, "looking smaller and more twisted than usual and his eyes dull."  See, it's more meaningful when Mawkey acts like this because he's been with us for the entire book.  We never saw his relationship with the Lieutenant develop or anything because Hubbard started with the two as best buddies, and it's a pretty shallow and straightforward relationship between a lofty officer and his lowly batman (a term I learned from the Lord of the Rings DVD extras), but at least it's an established relationship rather than Carstair suddenly becoming Lefty's friend and confidant after a months-long timeskip between chapters.

Anyway, he asks Lefty to confirm the rumor that those two idiots they should have killed when they had the chance will be taking over England.  But then Mawkey reveals that he and some of the names from the first half of the book, those original members of Fourth Brigade who got sidelined after all those new guys showed up, they've come up with a plan to give Victor and Smythe a twenty-gun salute when they show up at the Tower.

"Those marines would murder the lot of you."

"Yessir.  But that's better than letting Victor execute the Lieutenant."

Ugh.  He was almost more than the hero's bootlick, he almost justified his self-sacrifice by saying it would be for the good of England, but no, it's all about the Lieutenant.

Lefty is firm in his order for Mawkey to... do what he orders, and that is, as soon as the documents for the transfer of power are signed, for him and all the other officers and soldiers to leave the Tower.  The Lieutenant will be staying, however, and Mawkey realizes that our hero "had suddenly developed a suicidal mania like so many officers had in the face of defeat."  And if this doesn't seem like a useful survival skill, well, obviously our heroic Lieutenant never faced defeat before this point.

"Remember my orders," said the Lieutenant when Mawkey had picked up the tray."

"Yessir," said Mawkey, but with difficulty for there was something wrong with his throat and his eyes smarted.

Just finish the story already, Hubbard.

At eight that evening, the American gig lands at London, and the party of marines and those two senators disembarks, joined by two British exiles.  The narration spends a good long paragraph talking about those marines in particular, how they're seasoned veterans of campaigns in Mexico and Central America and the Yellow Sea, so that "In ten years of service they had set the Stars and Stripes to float over all the Western Hemisphere and half of Asia."  So-

America controls roughly half the planet.  And it desperately needs England to colonize so its millions and millions of unemployed citizens will have something to do.  And it went there first, before continental Europe.  And this is all after America was devastated in an atomic war.  What?

I'm sure it made sense when Hubbard was writing it.  Anyway, the marines are on alert because they recognize "the feel of hostility held off with effort," even if they're a bit thrown from being up against Englishmen because "they had never fought their own race before."  The politicians and Victor and Smythe are oblivious and cheerful as they enter the Tower's fortifications and pass by all those character names we vaguely remember - Bulger, Pollard, Weasel, Tou-tou, old Chipper, Gian and Mawkey.  Also known as Guy Who Hears Potatoes, I Forget, Scout Guy, Frenchy, Who?, "Worthless Stuff" Guy and Crooked Butler.

Lefty is sitting at his desk, garbed in his bulletproof cape and gunbelts, and it's a good thing he always wears this crap or else the bad guys might get suspicious.  He and Frisman exchange pleasantries, and Lefty explains that he's prepared the terms of his withdrawal from government, but suddenly adds a condition that the new government "will keep my plan in operation."  It's a simple plan that would put in General Victor in control of the country with Colonel Smythe as his second-in-command and co-dictator, followed by the country's officer corps who will be led by Swinburne.  A straightforward military command structure, yes?  Frisman agrees without any trouble.

And then Lefty spends a full page adding other conditions, and I can't help but think that maybe Frisman should have hammered all this out before showing up to sign the documents instead of letting Lefty dictate the terms of the treaty.  Lefty wants a cap on American immigrants, no more than a hundred thousand per month, and they'll all have to purchase their land for a fair price.  All his regime's land titles will be honored, so those feudal officers he appointed will keep their estates and fiefs, and its laws will continue to be upheld.  The national police and government (as if there's a difference) will remain under British control, and all officers in the army have to be British by birth, and all its judges will be British - wait, judges?  I thought everyone just came to Lefty to settle their cases personally?

"You drive a stiff bargain."

"I am giving you a country. If you want it, you shall have to accept these conditions.

Actually, no, Frisman doesn't.  He has a battleship a few miles away that can turn London into a pancake.  He has a complement of marines that completely outclasses the soldiers of Fourth Brigade.  Lefty has jack squat to use as a bargaining chip other than the appeal that it'd be easier to take over a functional government than build a new one on its ruins.  If Frisman wants to change the terms of this transition of power, I think he'll get his way, Hubbard.

Luckily for our hero, Frisman is feeling quite agreeable, and is even willing to meet Lefty's demand that America supply advanced equipment and weapons to help England defend itself.  He's really eager to get this deal done, see.

Frisman looked the document over.  He wanted nothing better than this, for it meant that he could ease the pressure of the idle in the Americas.  Very few had any liking for the new South American States.  But the climate and soil of England was a definite lure.

Seriously?!  Friggin' Rio isn't worth living in, but everyone's salivating to build a farm in cold, wet, foggy England?

And when they had Europe, a feat for which the unemployed had been anxiously waiting, the whole thing would be solved.

Why don't they have Europe already?  Wouldn't it be even more attractive than England?  Lots more room, milder climate, plenty of land to grow mutfruit or whatever on.

Yes, this document was very carefully phrased and very binding.

And we all know how faithfully America follows the treaties it signs with people whose land it covets.

So the greasy senator signs it, Lefty announces he's relinquishing command of England, and gives his last order to his men to evacuate the tower.  All those minor characters we've come to know and... well, they all march out dejectedly.  Lefty watches them leave, puts on his helmet, turns to the invaders, and makes one last statement.  It's nothing new, just the "so long as an officer's command remains he has not failed it" sentiment expressed twice earlier, as well as a reminder that the chain of command goes from Victor to Smythe to the council of officers.

He also asks them if he's correct in saying that he no longer has anything to do with the British government, to which they nod, "a little mystified."  You can probably guess where Lefty's going with this.

"I am a civilian now," said the Lieutenant, "for I relinquish my rank, as that paper I gave you will show.  The law applies wholly to me, even though I made the law.

Oh, so does this imply that before he gave up command, Lefty enacted laws that he himself was immune to?  Wait, sorry, I'm interrupting the dramatic finale.

The British government, now under you, General Victor, is not at all responsible for my actions."

"True, true," said Smythe.

"Then," said the Lieutenant, standing before them all, "I shall do what I have to do."

His hand flashed from beneath the battle cloak.  Flame stabbed and thundered.

Victor, half his head blown off, reeled and slumped.

He's going down, in a blaze of glory, they can take him now, but they'll know the truth.  He's going down, in a blaze of glory, Lord he never drew... well, I guess Lefty did draw first.

Victor is of course killed by the headshot, Smythe is hit in the chest and drops, though Frisman at least has enough presence of mind to get behind his bodyguards.  So we end the book with a page-long action sequence, and it's not quite a Hubbard Action Sequence.  The descriptions of what happen are pretty curt, but not the one sentence exclamations we saw in Mission Earth, and the bigger difference is that the hero doesn't win.

The marines swept forward. Like a duelist the Lieutenant raised his arm and fired. A bullet ricocheted from the marine officer's breastplate and, instinctively, he fired at the source.

The bullet tore through the cloak as though it had been flame and the cloak paper. The Lieutenant staggered back and strove to lift his gun again.

The rest of the brigade tries to save our hero, bless them, and Carstone's machine guns are able to bring down two marines, but the others respond and blow his face off.  Bulger attempts to cut his way through to the Lieutenant with his bayonet, but goes down with a gut shot before he can reach him.  And so go the rest of them, all valiantly and vainly trying to save the single most important person in all the world, the person who means more to them than life itself, a person who has already been grievously wounded and so probably isn't worth this rescue effort.

Lefty tries to shout something but can't find the breath, something tugs at his shoulders and he spins to the floor,

He was falling down, down, down in a red-walled pit which had a clear brilliance at the bottom.  And then blackness swept away everything.  Blackness and nothingness - forever.

Ah, the afterlife fake-out.  You think you're going to Hell, then bam, oblivion.

Wait, could this be the Final Blackout promised in the title?

Above the Byward Gate on Tower Hill that flag still flies; the gold is so faded that only one who knows can trace the marks which once made so clear the insignia of the lieutenant, the white field is bleached and patched where furious winds have torn it.  It is the first thing men look to in the morning and the last thing men see when the sky fades out and the clear, sad notes of retreat are sounded by the British bugler on Tower Hill.

Okay, hang on.  So the author has decided to give us a downer ending, and kills off his hero and everyone else in one last suicidal effort to keep two incompetents from running England, even if it will be colonized by the evil Americans regardless.  The fact that each day ends with a called retreat suggests that England will go on as an occupied nation.  But they let them keep the flag?  The occupiers are okay with this symbol of resistance flying over the seat of power, the personal emblem of the dictator who dared to defy them?

That flag still flies,

Apparently so.  Oy.

and on the plaque below are graven the words:

When that command remains, no matter what happens to its officer, he has not failed.

THE END

Man, Hubbard's really milking that aphorism he just came up with for the final chapter for all it's worth, isn't he?

And that's it, ladies and gentleman.  The Lieutenant had some adventures in France, played a nonlethal game of war with other nations' officers, coerced food and lodging from people who just wanted to be left alone, took credit for his men's revolt and hijacked the bulk of his nation's army, then returned home and deposed England's government to institute a military regime.  He had a couple of years to rebuild his country, somehow did a good job at it and was a wildly popular leader, only for all his effort to come to naught in the face of superior American military technology.  But at least on his way out he killed those two guys he didn't kill in Chapter V before they screwed up England again.

And despite ruling a country for two or three years, despite ruling people personally and rendering judgment on their disputes, despite having a cult of personality surrounding him so that his rank became an official title no other man would dare claim, nobody felt the need to ask him his name.


Back to Chapter IX part II