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.

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