Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Nine - How to Solve a Labor Shortage

Oh excuse me, Palmer-Tiger is napping with a purpose.  He's passing "through the veil as one who pushes cobwebs from his face in an old deserted corridor, sleeping hardly at all, so great was his anxiety to discover if his treasure was still there."  He's agitated over the fate of his magic doodad and was recently shocked to see himself in a mirror, but he's still able to flop onto his bunk and fall asleep on command - even though the narration just admitted that he's hardly sleeping at all.  So does the quality of your sleep impact the transition between the worlds?  Is Palmer able to have less influence over Tiger's instincts if he's having a fitful doze in his cell, but could properly control the rascal's impulses if he was having a deep, restful sleep in his proper bed?  Can there be lag and long loading times if the connection isn't a good one?

When Tiger-Palmer comes to, he's in that huge bed in Queen Ramus' tower, and though he's aware that he's been there all night and slept only poorly, he also knows "his strong body was not one to demand more than the scantest rest."  Most importantly, a certain mystical doohickey is still under his pillow.

The Seal of Sulayman!  The crossed triangles and the magic circle about them seemed to vibrate with a mighty power.  Solomon the Wise, ruler of his world, mightiest monarch of all time!  And he had worn this ring upon his hand and had thereby been wise and great and omnipotent.  And what if he had destroyed its power for evil over humans?  What if Zongri had made it powerless in turn against Ifrits?  Was it not enough that it still brought all wisdom, that it struck away all locks and that, among other things, would reveal the hiding places of all the treasures of earth?

Spoiler alert: Palmer will not obtain Solomon's legendary wisdom by using this thing.  It's basically a glorified magical lockpick, with a very generous definition of "locks" it can open.

While he's gloating, someone starts unbarring and unlocking his door, and he has to hide the Seal before the portal opens to admit a couple of marid sentries and a breathtakingly beautiful woman.  Hate to drop two quotes right next to each other, but

She was robed in the sheerest of golden silk which showed every curve of her voluptuous body.

Of course it's gold.

Her only jewels were a girdle and a cap of pearls which lay like a moon against the midnight of her hair.

That's a lot more "only" than most of us can afford.

Her eyes were fathomless seas of jet, making the pallor of her lovely, somehow bold face all the more exquisite.  She appeared as one sculpted in alabaster and given, by some enchantment, the breath of life.

People are just more beautiful the whiter they are, am I right?

Mesmerized, Palmer can only take her hand and help her up as she takes a seat on the edge of the bed and dismisses the marids - both in sending them out to re-lock the door, and also in calling them fools who are easy to order about.  Palmer remembers that the jinn mooks aren't supposed to let anyone talk with him, and the woman only laughs and says "And yet I, who have no earthly business here, can walk airily through their ranks and into their presence as if they were so many dolls."

The woman never bothers to introduce herself, and Palmer never asks, he just calls her "M'Lady" if anything.  But you're clever, aren't you?  Smart enough to hazard a guess who this lady could be?  Someone who knows her way around this palace, someone able to boss around its staff?  My real question is why Tiger can't make a guess, but either he's still pacified by Palmer's actions in Seattle or he's content to play along for now.

M'Lady pours some wine... lady, it's only just morning, isn't it a bit early to be hitting the sauce?  Anyway, she says she's here to give counsel, Palmer asks what her counsel is, she voices her surprise that the "gallant" Tiger is so eager to be rid of her and starts toying with the holes left in his earlobes by some earrings.  So banter, more or less, and maybe a hint of foreplay.

It goes on for another two pages or so - Tiger explains he pawned his earrings to buy a dancer a veil, M'Lady describes herself as "the finest of [the queen's] servants," and Palmer eventually asks what information he's supposed to have that's dangerous enough to justify his isolation.  But after describing "scholaring" as a "dread disease" in which the more you know the more you know you know nothing, we finally reach the long-awaited infodump that might spell out this book's underlying premise.  Two-thirds of the way through it.

Palmer, M'Lady explains, is in the Land of Sleep.  Or rather that's what he'd probably think of it as, since people in Tarbutón consider Seattle to be in the Land of Sleep.  It depends where you're dreaming from.  Anyway, M'Lady goes on to talk about how "Human beings are weird people.  Long ago we found that they had souls."  Palmer is in fact bright enough to catch that M'Lady is talking about humans as beings different from herself, but doesn't press the issue, and instead mentions a Native American belief that a man's soul crosses into a different world when he sleeps.  I have done literally minutes of research into the matter and can't find what Hubbard is talking about, but he was after all made a Blackfoot blood brother at the tender age of six, so he must know his American Indian folklore.

This may be why there weren't any red men seen a few chapters ago when Palmer scoped out Tarbutón - M'Lady says that "Long, long ago we found the Indian had to be very closesly watched because of just that consciousness."  But most humans live their whole lives unaware that they're actually living two lives, switching from one to the other whenever they fall asleep.  This might be where we get notions of "'double personalities' and 'split egos' and such," but that's all patently absurd.  It's not one person struggling to deal with two personalities in the same body, it's one person having a different personality in different bodies.  Much more reasonable.

Palmer asks why these two personalities can be so very different, and M'Lady doesn't quite know the answer, but can try to repeat Zeno's theories... who the hell is Zeno?  M'Lady says Zeno told her about Palmer using the astrolabe - oh, Zeno was the royal astronomer from Chapter Six.  That would have been useful information to know in Chapter Six.  Hubbard, why do you keep introducing new characters into the story without properly introducing them to the reader until several chapters later, after they've had their big scene?

Anyway, to answer Palmer's question: "There really isn't just one man or one soul or one human," instead people consist of "a certain kind of energy," and if you can convert one type of energy into another, "does it follow therefore that life is convertible into other kinds of life?"  Palmer immediately derails the conversation when M'Lady carelessly mentions a fakir who managed to merge his two souls into a single ecstatic existence, and jabbers about "Yoga!  The Veda!  The goal of the greatest cult in India!  The attainment of complete Unity!"  I can't help but wonder where he picked up all this stuff.  I went to school too, but never saw any Occult Studies courses offered.  Did I just pick the wrong university?

Anyway, to continue to try to answer Palmer's question if he would just shut up long enough for M'Lady to talk: men have two souls that are connected somehow, and when someone falls asleep in one world their "brother" in the other world wakes up and goes about their day, with their sleeping counterpart none the wiser.  The reason this is such a big secret is... both surprising and disappointing.  The jinn aren't worried that this metaphysical knowledge will lead humans to surpass them or anything, they're worried about a slave uprising.

See, the jinn had gone through some nasty wars back "before humans were more than apes," so they were having trouble getting stuff done, and more importantly, genies just don't like doing manual labor.  Their dedication to laziness led them to hatch a scheme to gather a ton of slaves - all they had to do was travel to another dimension, raid cemeteries for corpses, bring them back to Genie World, try to bring the corpses to life with genie magic, fail at this, come up with the bright idea of trapping the wandering souls of dreaming humans in those corpses, and somehow change things so that humans only traveled between those two worlds, which revived those stolen bodies and allowed the genies to breed this trait in the former corpses' descendants, thus ensuring that they'd have plenty of slaves to maintain their decadent genie lifestyle.  The only hiccup is that occasionally some of those slaves catch on to the "two worlds" situation and have to be put down before they spread the word.  Other than that, it's gone off without a hitch.

"And so we have slaves.  Lots of slaves.  And we do them a great favor, too.  Eh, sailor?  Is this not a fine land?  Is it not beauteous?  And is it not a great, great pity that we cannot allow humans in their own world to know about it and, perchance, do something to stop it?  What is so bad about slavery?  We are generous.  Right generous, I think.  The soul here is the true soul.  Just as yours is the soul of a sailor, how unhappy you must have been as a scholar in your other world?  I... uh... where was I?"

I mean... it's not as bad as the thing with the black holes moving a capital forward in time by thirteen minutes, thus rendering it invulnerable to enemy attack, while not interfering with traffic moving in and out of it.  That's Hubbard's story smashing headlong into hard science.  This is something fantastic, something we can't argue with as a blatantly incorrect understanding of how the universe works.

Still, this is kind of silly.  If a Human World fellow and his Genie World counterpart have separate bodies, personalities, memories, and souls, is there a compelling reason that there'd be any sort of connection linking the two?  Beyond the fact that the situation is the bedrock for Hubbard's story, I should say.  I mean, if there's someone on a distant alien world who doesn't share my name, and has lived a completely different life than mine, but he has a slight resemblance to me, can I really say he's my brother from another reality?  The other half of some whole I'm not normally aware of?

Also, the jinn have the supernatural power to travel to the human world, and were able to reanimate bodies after snagging wandering souls to inhabit them, but this was the simplest and most straightforward way of getting manual labor?  They couldn't build golems or anything?  No medieval, magical robot servitors?  Why didn't the ifrits just enslave the marids, why'd they need to drag humans into this?

And why is the knowledge of a world where humans aren't ruled by jinn the only thing that could spark a slave revolt?  None of these human servants have just gotten fed up with being a genie's property and revolted?  They just accept their lot as the natural order of things because they have no example of an alternative?

But, there you have it, the great secret of the Land of Sleep.  Now at least we can see why Ramus was so upset that Zongri cursed a human with Eternal Wakefulness, allowing him to learn of a world where hideous monsters held people in bondage.  Still waiting for an explanation of why Zongri thought this would ruin Palmer's life.  Was he hoping that Palmer's Genie World counterpart would be a particularly miserable slave, only to end up sending him to share the life of a Hubbard Action Hero instead?

At least a token effort is made to explain how a night of sleep in one world covers a full day's activity in the other - "the days are of disproportionate length, though all is on the same ratio, the sleep soul was sixteen hours here and sixteen hours in its own world."  So you can stop trying to work out how long Palmer's been sleeping over the course of his adventure, secure in the knowledge that it all works out properly.

M'Lady might be feeling the effects of her drink, and trails off with "Where was I?" three times over two pages before giving up on her story, remarking what a "handsome devil" Tiger is, and getting in close for some non-verbal communication.  But then there's a commotion outside the room and the door opens to admit a disheveled Old Zeno who bursts in quite rudely, crying out for "Your Royal Highness!"

Please pretend to be surprised that the beautiful woman immediately transforms into the terrifying, furry, fanged Queen of Tarbutón.  Please don't question why a magical race that can shapeshift like this still couldn't animate a bunch of corpses to do their laundry, and instead had to rely on their power over souls to get the slaves they wanted.

Zeno has bad news - Zongri has broken free, killed every guard in the dungeon, stolen a ship out of the harbor, and all the royal postal pigeons have been missing for a full day now, so the only possible conclusion is that Zongri did it and has already sent for his fleet in the Barbossi Isles and plans to meet them halfway.  Which sucks, because he's got forty ships to his name, while Tarbutón's navy amounts to a whopping four boats.  So Ramus takes off screaming for her admiral and her officers and her guards, leaving behind a stunned Palmer and a morose Zeno.

Tiger tries to crack a joke about Zeno getting a prediction of doom correct, but the old jinni points out this is all Tiger-Palmer's fault, and Zongri isn't just coming to destroy his rival kingdom, but find and kill Palmer-Tiger.  And with the threat of very personal doom on top of impending general doom, Palmer finally feels horrified.  When Zeno leaves, the prisoner helps himself to two more steadying drinks, then straps the Seal of Sulayman onto his wrist because... it's so big...

The Seal of Solomon was a magic ring, right?  Made for a human?  So why is it so big that he has to wear it on- screw it.

"Zongri will take care of me in time.  But before that, by Allah and Baal and Confucius, I've still a dancing girl to see!"  And who knew, he thought, hauling on a boot, but what this same dancing girl, who might be Alice Hall, would prove his salvation at least in the other world?"

No, I didn't mistype anything, that's how it appears in the book, and no, I can't parse it either.  As for Miss Hall possibly saving Palmer's hide in Seattle, it'll be a good twenty pages before we learn the answer to that question.  Next time we start a big, long action sequence where Tiger shows us the power of the mighty Seal of Sulayman.

Basically, it makes him the Kool-Aid Man.

Back to Chapter Eight

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