Monday, August 8, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Eight - Part of a Complete Breakfast

Man, I dunno.  Maybe Hubbard decided that since it's been fifty pages or so since anything happened in the world of humans, now was a good time to check on Palmer's body.  Maybe he was writing this thing a chapter a day, and just had an uninspired afternoon after finishing Chapter Seven.  At any rate, here's a three-page intermission in the story of Palmer's adventures in a world of genies.

Palmer wakes from a doze, gropes for the mighty Seal of Sulayman hidden under his pillow, and is surprised when it isn't there.  This makes him explode into action, leaping out of his bed and tearing into it, scattering sheets and clothes and dust and cockroaches as he frantically searches for the priceless magical artifact.  It's only when Diver Mullins asks "What the hell's going on?" that Palmer realizes he's no longer in a plush bedroom in a genie's palace.

That brought Jan into a realization of his whereabouts.  He stopped stock still and then, like a cloud, the odor of disinfectant and unwashed feet and halitosis settled over him.  Like a hum of bees the sound of restless men came into his ears.  Like a judgment he heard a bell tolling somewhere over the city, calling people to church.

It was jail and it was Sunday.

I think it's possible to have too many similes in a given paragraph.

So yeah, last chapter ended with Palmer feigning sleepiness and crawling into bed so he could covertly inspect the Seal of Sulayman, an item of incredible power that he'd certainly want to learn how to use.  But I guess he really was sleepy because evidently he nodded off as soon as Chapter Seven ended, and here we are.

Now, everything we've seen about the "Curse" of Eternal Wakefulness so far indicates that it acts as a one-way trip.  Palmer's consciousness got sent to Tiger's body when he fell asleep in the world of humans, but Tiger's consciousness didn't take over Palmer's body when he fell asleep in the world of jinn.  But before we get too cocky about working out the mechanics of this magic based on our observations, Hubbard's gonna change things up for us.

Mullins, being the bullying cellmate, orders Palmer to clean up the mess he's made.  Instead of meekly complying or standing his ground, Palmer instead goes still for a moment, then bursts into a frenzy of motion, making "a great show" of tidying up all the clothes and stuff that ended up strewn all over the place, working so hard and so fast that Mullins has to stand up against the bars to keep out of the way.  In no time Palmer declares that he's finished, and Mullins goes back to his bunk - the good one, if you'll remember - only for the chains holding it upright to give way and dump him on the floor.

We get some cartoony nonsense when Mullins kicks the uncooperative piece of furniture, which ends with him clutching his injured foot, "hopping around like a heron and swearing like a pirate," because iron is hard.  When he recovers, the surly pickpocket dumps Palmer's stuff out of the remaining bunk and claims it for himself, only for Palmer to pick up his stuff and immediately reconnect the chains to fix Mullins' previous bed.  Mullins accuses his cellmate of doing all this on purpose to leave him with a bed that "isn't fit for a hog to sleep in!", Palmer counters "Then why should you object?", but before things can escalate to a fistfight, breakfast is pushed through the door, and Mullins claims it all for himself.

Once again, Palmer - and yes, the narration still refers to him as "Jan" for this - doesn't make a fight of it, but instead just watches Mullins hog all the food.  But just as he starts digging into the eggs, Palmer cries "Look out!"

"What's wrong?" snarled Diver.

"Why, good golly, you wouldn't want to eat that, would you?"  And he advanced, placing his hand close to the plate to indicate something.

Diver took his eyes off Jan and looked at the plate and there, squarely between the two eggs was the biggest cockroach he had ever seen!  And not only that but only half of him was present.

Now, Mullins ought to be a little suspicious of this, since after all he thinks Palmer just cheated him out of the good bunk with some sleight-of-hand, and Palmer pointed out the roach by putting his hand nearly on the plate.  But the criminal instead puts one hand on his mouth and the other on his stomach, and presumably goes green with nausea.  Palmer starts talking about cockroaches being as poisonous as arsenic, yells for a guard, and soon Mullins is being escorted to the prison infirmary.  When a counterfeiter (sigh) in another cell asks what's going on, Palmer explains that "It's something he thought he ate" before finishing the untouched and unroachy parts of the breakfast.

Again, Palmer is still referred to as Palmer, but the narration adds that "Tiger purred with contentment and the luxurious feeling which always followed a job well done."  So it would seem that some measure of that lovable rogue has followed our protagonist from Genie World to Seattle, something that didn't happen the last time Palmer returned from the place in Chapter Four.  But it's not that Tiger is taking control like during those pranks in the Genie World, instead it's more like Palmer remembers how to prank when he's back in the world of humans, and has gained the confidence and daring to do so.

So once again I wonder why it's the Curse of Eternal Wakefulness and not the Boon of Eternal Wakefulness.  Palmer's a more assertive person after his experiences being Tiger, and the narration says that when he woke up in his prison bunk, Palmer wasn't exhausted from a full day's experiences in Genie World, but felt "the sleepy sensation of one who has spent a night of snoring," so he's not even being enhanced interrogation techniquesed by sleep deprivation.  Aside from the disorientation of Palmer being in Tiger's place, a temporary inconvenience since Tiger is steadily reasserting himself in Genie World, there does not seem to be any downside to this condition.

Maybe it'll make sense next chapter, when we get hit with a big, long infodump that will try to explain all this weirdness.  Which unfortunately means that I'll want to cover Chapter Nine in its own update, so I can't just breeze through this wimpy little chapter and merge it with the next one.  Blarg.

Anyway, this chapter ends on a confusing note.  Palmer has been Palmer this whole time, and Tiger only appeared once when he purred after Mullins got evicted from the cell.  But,

The feeling of well-being, however, did not last very long.  Jan, recalling Alice's present, stripped down and prepared for a shave.  All went well until he confronted himself in the glass.  With a shock he beheld nobody but Jan Palmer.

This shouldn't be shocking.  Again, the narration has consistently referred to our main character as Jan Palmer, even when he was flinging clothes around and sabotaging bunks and sneaking half a cockroach onto a pickpocket's breakfast plate.  If Hubbard had called the guy Tiger over the past three pages, then yes, this would be a shocking note to end the section on.  But he didn't, so it's just a lot of "huh?"

And if that wasn't enough, we go from Palmer looking in a mirror in this chapter to Palmer waking up in a genie's bedroom in the next one.  So what, did he pass out in shock and come to in the other world?  Probably not, since the next time we focus on the world of humans Palmer is getting up from his bunk.  I guess he woke up, discovered he wasn't in Genie World, sent his cellmate to the doctor, ate breakfast, had a shocking revelation when he looked in the mirror... and then took a nap.

I mean, I get that falling asleep is how you transition between the two worlds in this story.  But it still undermines the drama somewhat when your character's response to an existential crisis is to go to sleep.

Back to Chapter Seven

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