Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Eight - Alice Makes Everything Worse

Tiger presumably has a decent night's sleep as the newly-installed emperor-admiral of a pirate fleet, while in contrast Palmer regains consciousness in his living room as a doctor prattles on about the marvelous design of the human skull and how Palmer might have died if the blow that knocked him out had fallen an inch to the right.  His servants carried him there after discovering him sprawled on the floor of his study, and now there's a crowd that includes doctors, police, and a weeping The Swede Girl apologizing and hoping she won't get blamed for her boyfriend's attack.  Alice is of course horrified, tending to her husband and-

Oh.  Wait.  No, that's not what she's doing.

Alice sat at a secretary desk writing notes of invitation to a tea party and commenting sideways now and then on her amazement that Jan would lie down in his study all night without calling anyone and on her concern that he might miss out on a board meeting scheduled for that afternoon.

I just wonder what happened in the decade between this and Slaves of Sleep to make Hubbard hate Alice so much... oh, right, bigamist marriage in 1946, belated divorce in 1947, so at the time this was published Hubbard's second marriage was on its way to collapsing the next year.  Yeah, that might explain some of this.

In the midst of this commotion, Palmer is gloomily focused on that stolen diamond, which he knows is the key to reversing the terrible change in his life, the way to restore that nameless thing that has been lost.  He staggers up to his room to shave and change out of bloodstained clothes, while The Swede Girl follows him around and wails, and when he finally returns to the main floor, all Alice can say is that she hopes he feels better and can he be a dear and take these letters to the post office on his way to work?

Jan took the letters.  He was about to reply submissively when he astonished himself.  "Mail your own damned letters!" he said.  "What the Great Horn Spoon's the idea trying to make me run your errands?  What am I, an errand boy?  And as for you," he roared, turning on the Swede girl, "go down to your galley and stay there and shut up that confounded yapping!  And if I ever catch you haying around with another condemned Commie I'll give you exactly what you deserve, a taste of the cat!  Now!" he barked, dropping the letters and thrusting Alice aside, "get out of my way and stay out of my way."

He left and the two women promptly collapsed into one another's arms in an orgy of tears.

Good name for a rock band, Orgy of Tears.  But yes, Palmer seems to be channeling Tiger here, which is to say he's being a dick, but in a commanding, heroic manner.  Which means that he must have the Two World Diamond on his person somewhere, since Tiger took it off McCoy last chapter.  But it'll be another three pages before Palmer actually checks his pocket and finds the thing.

So he goes to work, despite his terrible head injury, because what kind of millionaire executive would take a day off?  He hits his office "like an Alaskan williwaw," decisive and invigorated.  He sweeps all the letters and such off his desk and starts pressing buttons.  It's time for some changes, dammit, starting with Bering Steam supporting a project to build an Alaskan highway instead of "a military miscarriage designed to favor Canadian mining interests," like the rest of the board favors.  But instead of getting members of the board, Palmer instead encounters a union delegate from the Friends of Russia Communist International Objectors Seaman's Union Local No. 350, someone who believes "anyone who belonged to a democracy or indulged in trade was a capitalist and that only Communists were free and he believed besides that the only way Communism could make the world free was to enslave it and the only way to do that was to set up a super-capitalism called Sovietism."  And man, you know you're in for some good satire when the author is using economic concepts that don't actually appear in textbooks.

This little commie, one Simon Lucar, comes in to complain about Bering Steam's discriminatory hiring practices - why, this American company refuses to employ anyone who isn't from the United States!  Palmer has no time for this foolishness, and when Lucar calls him a racist, he punches the guy clean through the glass door to his office, then picks the union delegate up and throws him across the door.  Yeah!  Take that, communism!  This is democracy and freedom in action, solving disagreements through force and demonstrating the rightness of their cause by attacking anyone who defies them!

"I'll get you!" whined Lucar, struggling up.

"Go to hell!" said Jan.

Lucar instantly collapsed.  He collapsed in a very peculiar way.  He collapsed as does a man when he is dead.

Uh oh.

In Palmer's defense, it's only after he checks the guy's pulse, confirms he's dead, and shakily reaches for a handkerchief that he realizes he's once again holding that magic stone that does dangerous things when you speak carelessly around it.  He knows that the battery he just committed wouldn't be enough to kill Lucar - "Besides, it was impossible to kill Commies with a tap on the head." - so he must have sent his soul somewhere with the magic diamond.

By this point other people in the office are starting to gather around the scene of the crime and send for police and paramedics, so Palmer has an audience as he experiments with commands.  "Come back from hell!" doesn't work, but "I conjure you to return from hell!" causes "the Commie" to shudder back to life.  Lucar immediately screams and recoils from Palmer, and orders the approaching police officers to arrest him.  "He suddenly went crazy!  Insane!"  And while the police are reluctant to get involved, since Palmer is of course the very rich president of Bering Steam, when a dazed Palmer admits that yes, he did attack Lucar, they have to cart him off.  Lucar has no residual ill-effects after a taste of the fire and torment that awaits the godless communists, but instead continues to crow about Palmer's fit of insanity.

In all of a paragraph, Palmer gets taken to a police station and processed, and the diamond is confiscated and placed in a safe along with the rest of the contents of his pockets.  He expects that his attorney will get him out in no time, but that darn board of directors is up to its old tricks again, and sends someone else instead.

The psychiatrist was a very learned man if not quite bright.  He examined the idea that the blow on the head might have unsettled Jan's wits but being a rather backward individual the psychiatrist had neglected to read anything about Dianetics, though it was well known to his fellow psychiatrists.

This is Dr. Dyhard, who like Doc Harrington last book wears pince-nez glasses, but while our previous psychiatrist had the excuse of ignorance when it came to his diagnosis, Dyhard just refuses to see the light and embrace Dianetics, whatever that is.  He examines the case, and how Palmer was accused and jailed for murder last book, and declares the man a paranoid schizophrenic who feels persecuted by communists, who are of course harmless.  Fortunately he has a solution: a transorbital leukotomy, a procedure involving electric shocks and metal in the frontal lobe, after which Palmer will no longer be troubled by any delusions.  A lobotomy, in other words.

And there's the "This is not a real operation!" and "But the frontal lobes are what makes man a thinking animal!" and the like from our hero, while the psychologist villain explains that "Men think and men go insane, therefore thinking is insanity" and "if you think you or anybody else can question our right to do these things you are mistaken" and so on.  Nothing we haven't seen/will see in Mission Earth, in other words.  And even though Palmer doesn't want his brains scrambled, it turns out Dyhard already contacted Alice, who tearfully agreed to put Palmer through an operation to cure his fits of rage under the logic that "if a psychiatrist said so, it must be so."

Nothing about Palmer's strange personality shift, how he seemed to be channeling a salty sailor that morning.  Maybe the fact that he was actually yelling at his wife trumped what he was yelling.

Palmer gets outraged that he's lost his civil rights by being declared insane, Dyhard gets enraged at Palmer's rage and tries to grab him only to get punched for his trouble, allowing the psychiatrist to call the guards for help and feel vindicated that his patient is "hopelessly insane.  A classic paranoid schizophrenic."  So Palmer's screwed.  All he did was scream at his wife and servant, throw someone through a door and against a wall, and now these maniacs are calling him some sort of dangerous psycho!  Once he gets his magic diamond back and regains the power to manipulate human souls, I'm sure he'll be able to prove his sanity.

We get a break in the paragraph before checking in on what some other characters are up to.  Lucar gets a bounty of rubles for getting a capitalist thrown into jail, while Chan Davies - oh, did I not mention that two chapters ago?  Well, that communist ex-lumberjack who stole the diamond from Palmer is named Chan Davies.  I was a little unsure whether it was his name or if that was the identity of The Swede Girl, so that's probably why I didn't mention it.

Anyway, Davies is upset when he finds out that his stolen diamond has in turn been stolen from him, but he's pleased to hear the news about Palmer's incarceration, and goes back to the Palmer residence to regroup with The Swede Girl and comfort her for being a victim of one of "Jan's racism rages."  Alice, as per her new role for this book, apologizes to the lumberjack for Palmer's accusations and assures him that any charges will be dropped, then agrees when he offers to be her "bodyguard" as she goes to the jail to recover Palmer's possession.  The lumberjack does a lot of wriggling during this, because remember he has lice.  This is probably a metaphor or something about communist parasites leeching the lifeblood from capitalist democracy.  And don't bathe.

So Alice and Davies go to the jail, not to visit Palmer, of course, but to take his stuff home, including that big-ass diamond.  But a sergeant explains that the diamond is such an irregular find that without a receipt or information about where it was bought, they can't let it go, especially if it was in the hands of "a nut--excuse me--of a prisoner."  And since Palmer is incommunicado at the "spinbin," the police will have to go through a list of stolen gems to see if they'll be able to release the diamond.

"That's illegal," said Alice.

"That's good sense," said the sergeant.  And as far as he was concerned the interview was over.

Alice shrugged, put the wallet and small possessions in her purse and guarded by a tragically disappointed Davies, drove back home again.

Note that Alice doesn't ask if she can get in touch with Palmer, purely to ask where he got the stone instead of checking in on his condition, she was asking whether sergeant could do it.  Now, Hubbard is doing his damnedest to make Alice as unlikable as possible, and while I'd love to spite him on general principle... well, he's just done too good a job.  Alice in this story is as much an obstacle to our protagonist as the book's outright villains, and we can't even say she has good intentions because she shows so little interest in her husband's well-being.  What's worse, she's being inconsistently obnoxious - before she was a domineering housewife bossing around her hubby while she loafed around with her girlfriends, now she's bowing to this psychiatric authority figure and weepingly consigning her husband to brain surgery.

Hubbard has created awful female characters before, of course - the Countess Krak, Teenie, Chrissie, and so forth - but what makes Alice stand out is that last book she didn't suck.  She had character development when she found the strength to stand up to her boss and save Palmer's bacon.  She had good points as well as flaws, such as her inexplicable attraction to Palmer in his weenie phase.  And here she is, two-dimensional and worse than useless.  The disgust is deeper because we know what was lost.

Though it's still unclear how it was lost.  Palmer reverting to his previous characterization makes sense because he forgot he was Tiger.  But Alice wasn't nearly this bad before she learned about her dual life as Wanna the temple dancer, so how has forgetting that made her so obnoxious?

If Slaves of Sleep was Hubbard's Super Metroid, Masters of Sleep would be his Metroid: Other M.

Back to Chapter Seven

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