Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Fourteen - Banish My Problems Away

Well, if life gives you an "I Win" button, and has also thrown an enemy frigate at you, it would only make sense to push that button.  Especially if this is merely the danger facing the you in one world, and in another world your other body is due to get its brain scrambled by a quack psychologist who stubbornly refuses to see the truth of Dianetics, available now at major booksellers.  Also, the frigate is commanded by vengeful genies.  Sometimes life is pretty weird.

The diamond blazed in the sunlight, bluer than the deep, whiter than the spray which flew above the reef.  In its depths lay the three-dimensional Seal of Sulayman, the monarch who had conquered once all the tribes of Jinn.

I think there was something about a deity helping Sulayman, though, some unfathomably powerful entity that gave him the magic ring in the first place.  But Yahweh or God or Allah doesn't get any credit, at least in this story.  Wonder why?  Is Hubbard fine with all-powerful ancient kings of legend, but doesn't like acknowledging anything greater than man?  Is that why, for all the rants about godless psychology in Mission Earth, religion plays little role in its heroes' lives?

Just when the enemy ship is about to fire, Tiger looks into the depths of the magic rock, then points it down "in the banishing sign," and while the author is willing to spend fifteen pages on a diagram of a ship's sails and a glossary of nautical terminology, he can't be bothered to spare a single sentence explaining what this arcane gesture is.

"Ifrits and Marids of the Ras Faleen!  To the center of the Withered Desert all!  Go!"

And they do.  Tiger can see the frigate's gun crews standing at their stations, but the genie officer who was about to tell them to shoot is gone, as are any other jinn on the ship.  The narration assures us that "if one cared, at the moment, to go to the Withered Desert he would have found a stunned group of Ifrits standing about, naval coats unfitting for that scenery of desolation and sand."  Thank you, omniscient narrator, for dispelling any confusion that the Two-World Diamond might have just up and disintegrated the genies or something.

Oh hey, remember how the Diamond can also swap souls between bodies?  "By the Seal of Sulayman!" our hero wishes that he was "the most commanding fellow on the Ras Faleen!" and boom, Tiger takes over some bearded gunnery sergeant on the ship, announces that he's taking command, and browbeats the crew into launching a boat to land on the island.  Once they hit the shore where a very confused Tiger-looking person is waiting, Tiger takes a moment to appreciate "how well his body looked despite the sea stains," wow.  Then he walks his stolen body to the rock that he was cunning enough to stuff the Diamond under in the split-second between wishing he was someone else and having his soul swapped, un-swaps bodies with the sailor, and uses his natural charisma or whatever to take command of the frigate's crew.

So two hours later, Tiger and the rest of the survivors from the Terror are aboard the frigate and sailing off to regroup with the rest of the formerly-genie fleet.  He orders a signalman to pass on the command for everyone to sail back to Tarbutón, and when the officer protests reminds him to "Sign it 'Tiger.'  They'll understand soon enough."  He also uses the Two-World Diamond to banish all the jinn aboard the armada, so another two hours later the newly-freed human sailors are just thrilled to follow the legendary Tiger.

A break in the paragraphs and an undefined amount of time later, Tiger's new fleet sails into Tarbutón's harbor, which is filled with very confused people wondering where all the local genies vanished to.  Some cheer when a lookout shouts "It's Tiger!" while others are more hesitant about the notorious troublemaker, but Tiger doesn't need the masses' approval.  Instead he has his sailors disembark and ready chains, then uses the Two-World Diamond concealed in a pocket to conjure the former admiral Tombo, Arif-Emir of Balou, and Zongri the recent ruler of Tarbutón.  As soon as the ifrits appear they are subdued and bound.

"By Ahriman!" screamed Zongri, age-old enemy of Tiger, "I demand-"

"Pipe down!" said Tiger.  "You demand nothing!  By virtue of a power I hold and which you know, I give you your choice between exile and a swift voyage to hell.  Before these witnesses assembled, Zongri, declare to me the lordship of your lands or else, by Ahriman, you'll roast!"

Huh, Hubbard's characters will invoke a Zoroastrian deity, but not the god behind the Seal of Solomon?  The god that Zongri was put away for not acknowledging?

Arif-Emir warns Zongri that Tiger has the magic rock, and so, in all a half-page, both of those genie rulers have ceded control over their realms to this pirate, and Tiger once more banishes them to the Withered Desert.  A sniveling Tombo begs Tiger not to send him away with the others, since they'll surely kill him for revealing the secrets of the Diamond.

Tiger looked at him.  He knew him for what he was, a Jinn that haunted in human form another world and wore the name of Dyhard.

Does Tombo even know he's opposing Tiger in the other world as well?  I mean, he's not exactly offering to have his human counterpart let Tiger-Palmer out of the loony bin in exchange for mercy, is he?

"All I care to do to you," said Tiger, "is to curse you with eternal wakefulness and memory in another world of this!

I guess that confirms it, Tombo has no idea of the offenses he's committed in the other world.  But he sure as hell is going to be punished for them.

Except for that, you are free.  Come lads, pass the word to the fleet to organize their ships and send me in a palace guard."

So the crowds go wild with cheering for this notorious ne'er-do-well who showed up with a fleet of cannons under his command and browbeat the jinn into handing over their thrones, and who is now going to rule the only two nations worth mentioning in the Land of Sleep.  Tiger doesn't shake hands or give any speeches on the policy goals of his upcoming administration, though, instead he pushes past the throng and enters the late Ramus' palace, until he's standing in its empty great hall.

"Sulayman!  Sulayman!" he said.  "By virtue of this diamond hear me where you are in the world of the dead.  The Ifrits who rebelled against you stand in the wastes of the Withered Desert.  Bewitch them there so they can trouble man no more."

There was a rumbling sound above him as though the sky was laughing with pleasure at the deed.

Why the hell didn't Solomon do that when he was alive?  What, he couldn't enslave the jinn to build his palace and keep them from causing mischief?

But that's that.  Tiger is now effectively King of Genie World.  All those humans he didn't care to free from genie bondage last time around are now fr- are now his subjects.  I'm sure Wanna's very impressed by all this, though since she doesn't actually appear in this chapter or get any lines, we can only speculate.  So let's see what kind of ruler Tiger wants to be, how he'll lead this cosmopolitan assembly of former slaves into a brave new world of

Jan sat in a hospital bed, a strong and forthright Jan.  He seemed bigger than he had and no wonder for he held as well the power of his other self in another world.  He was much besieged by callers.

Or we could cut back to Palmer, sure.  The super nerd is quickly recovering in a proper hospital, tended to by a "pretty nurse" who tells him that his leg is almost healed and he'll be able to go home tomorrow.  His wife is there, too.

Alice, sitting in a chair at Jan's left, looked fondly at her husband.  A definite change had taken place in her.  She was her composite self, warm and interested, no longer coldly businesslike, the artistic part of her restored and shining in her glance.  She patted Jan's hand.

Bullcrap.  Alice wasn't "coldly businesslike" this book, she was a borderline sociopath more preoccupied with her outings with girlfriends than her husband's head injury or brain surgery.  And her "composite self?"  She acted that way in the first story, before she knew of her second life as Wanna the vacuous temple dancer.  She gets even less out of this 'one soul two worlds' dealie than Tiger does from Palmer.

Let's wrap this up.  A visiting policeman mentions how Davies the commie got arrested in California, confessed to several robberies, and was carrying enough forged papers to get put away for a long time.  Also, that cop who shot Palmer is getting reassigned to the suburbs, where he wouldn't be able to do any more harm to rich, influential businessmen trying to chase down and attack someone after violently escaping an insane asylum.  A Bering Steam bigwig, eager to appease his boss after the second failed attempt to oust him, talks about how he'll be backing that highway to Alaska and will let Palmer rename that recently-launched ship from the Zachariah Palmer to the Greg Palmer like he wanted.  And a newspaper reveals that Dr. Felix Dyhard underwent a successful prefrontal lobotomy after starting to rave about being from another world, "and can be expected to experience an uneventful recovery after which he will be transferred to the state institution until such time as some routine employment which requires little thought can be found for him."

"Poor Tombo!" said Alice.

Jan went back to reading the comics.

Cue laugh track while we wonder what happens to someone who's been lobotomized in one world but not the other.  Do they alternate between periods of coherent thinking and emptiness, or does the operation damage the very soul?  How much is Tombo suffering for the sins of another person?

But that's it, that's our ending - after a chapter spent chasing after the thing, our hero uses the Two-World Diamond to wish all his problems away.  Palmer has retained his wealth and prestige in one world, destroyed the lives of his enemies by a means that cannot be linked to him, and escaped any punishment for vehicle theft or assault and battery or anything.  Tiger in the other world has managed to overthrow an entire society with a few commands directed at a magic rock and now faces the challenges of governing a nation with a skillset that consists of sailing, fighting and breaking the law.  There was no character development, nobody learned anything - at best our hero(es) recovered to where they were at the end of the previous book.

And at no point did we learn whatever happened to the all-powerful Seal of Sulayman the previous story revolved around.  Only that everyone was wasting their time with it when there was a much better artifact to play with.

Back to Chapter Thirteen

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