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

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