Monday, September 12, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Seven - From Baron to Prisoner to Admiral

You'd think that Palmer being sent to bed early with the help of a lead pipe might have some impact on Tiger's transition from sleep to wake in the other world, but although he is the first person in the cell to wake up, he doesn't suddenly jerk awake or come to with an unexplained headache.  He's just a little stiff from volunteering his arm as Wanna's pillow all night.  He doesn't even remark that he's up earlier than usual, so maybe Tiger's the sort of person who normally wakes up at dawn.

Tiger stretches, "like a big cat" of course, which disturbs and wakes the others, who start to complain "until they found it was Tiger who had done the disturbing, at which they relapsed into sufferance."  Remember, the key characteristic of heroes is that they can get away with crap that normal people can't.  Tombo and Malek also wake up, and Tombo immediately decides it's time to look for that diamond.

Don't worry, the beautiful white girl doesn't get felt up by the brutish ifrit, Tombo decides that Wanna's skimpy outfit doesn't have any pockets to search.  But Tiger gets patted down, then the other humans, until with a cry of surprise followed by a punch and a yelp, Tombo pulls the Two World Diamond from Muddy McCoy's person.  Tombo taunts that the "foolish humans" have no idea of the stone's true power, tells Malek to grab his arm, and with a cry of "To Ramus City both!  Fly!" the two jinn rocket into the sky, a rainbow trailing in their wake.  Excuse me, vanish in a blast of sudden wind.

You know, like how Zongri managed to vanish from Palmer's study at the start of the previous book, without the aid of a powerful magical artifact.  Boy, this stone must be powerful if it lets these genies do what we've seen another genie accomplish on his own.

Once the humans are done being stunned that the supernatural genies actually used magic, Tiger scrabbles on the floor and holds up the "magic stone" Tombo used to escape, and tries to do the same.  He gets everyone to gather close and hold on to each other, lifts the diamond up high, commands "To Ramus City all five!  Fly!" and-

Wait, Ramus City?  Hang on, let me yank at the book jacket and see if I can read the map on the inside of the cover... o-kay.  The World of the Jinn apparently comprises of a paltry two landmasses.  The one on the north is Tarbutón - excuse me, Tarbuton, someone forgot the diacritic - which consists of the Withered Desert in the northeast, the city of Tarbuton in a bay along the south coast, but there is also the settlement of Ramus City a short distance to the northwest of that.  The weird thing is that it looks like the Palace of Ramus is in Tarbuton the city, while the Temple of Rani is in Ramus City.  But I thought Tiger was able to reach the temple by running the streets and alleys of Tarbuton?  If it's one sprawling settlement, why is the part of it that Ramus doesn't live in called Ramus City?

Oh, and there's also Balou to the south of Tarbuton, and if you consider Tarbuton to be a continent then Balou could only be called an island.  Balou's capital is Balou, situated on Balou Bay.  And aside from those two landmasses and three cities, Genie World is nothing but water, some small isles, and the squiggle of the Frying Pan Shoals to the east.

Anyway, Tiger can't get the Two World Diamond to work, even when he spends the next two hours trying out various commands.  When he finally gives up, he asks McCoy where he got the thing, and the pickpocket insists he didn't do nothin', he just woke up and the thing was on him.  How strange.  Much like how Wanna ended up with the thing after Alice took it from Palmer in the human world.  Gee, I wonder who McCoy's human world counterpart might be?

Also, for an artifact that purportedly "becomes the soul companion of its possessor but attaches itself to the material being" it sure changes hands a bunch.

Tiger tells McCoy to shut up and suddenly asks Wanna how things were doing back in Tarbutón "when the old lady kicked off?"

"You mean Ramus the Magnificent?" said Wanna, dutiful subject that she had been.

"I mean Ramus of the Triple Chin," said Tiger.

"She died."

"I know," said Tiger patiently.

This is what happens when you marry take someone as your consort based on how they look in a slave dancer's outfit.

Wanna explains that they tried to keep Ramus' death a secret, but then Zongri took over.  Oh yeah, didn't you know?  Our old friend Zongri escaped from the work camps last March and just swept in and replaced Ramus once the old bat kicked it, but he still plans to continue the campaign against Arif-Emir over "some silly jewel" ...Wanna, uh, well she does the best she can with what she has, okay?

So Stagger Ryan summarizes the situation for us, that between Arif wanting to kill them for stealing his diamond and Zongri wanting to kill Tiger over that dimly-remembered stuff that happened last book, they might actually be safest as prisoners on a pirate ship.  Wanna starts bawling because she wasn't able to figure all this out for herself - her "education was, after all, only that of a temple dancing girl" - and tells Tiger to just get rid of the diamond.

Tiger, following the Arabian adage of always listening carefully to the advice of women and then doing the exact opposite, chucked her under the chin.  "Honey, if I were Old Thunderguts up on deck--"

Whirrrrrrr!  Zzzzzzt!

I mean... this isn't a complete retread of "If I Were You."  We're on boats instead of in the circus.  There's no little people involved.  The only Tiger around is a human.

So Tiger is now in the flabby, lice-infested, intoxicated body of Thunderbolt the pirate emperor.  He's able to push through the alcohol and come up with a quick scheme, and tells a guard that he's bored and orders the prisoners brought up.  In due time the five humans are produced (those two genies have vanished, oddly enough), and for some reason one of them is ranting and raving about how he's Thunderbolt the pirate emperor.  Wanna is of course crying.

So Tiger-as-Thunderbolt confiscates the magic diamond from Thunderbolt-as-Tiger, then he makes an announcement - he knows his crew is starting to think him old and weak, so he'll challenge each of these prisoners to a knife fight, and the winner gets his crown.  He starts with Thunderbolt-as-Tiger, and takes care to mention how he's heard of Tiger the legendary sailor and former baron, and asks the ship's crew if they'll except him as leader if he wins.  Naturally, the crewmen all cheer at the thought of following a Hubbard Action Hero into battle.

"Wait!" said Thunderbolt as Tiger, for his rage had cooled to a point where he realized that he would be stabbing his own body and was, in short, in a considerable mess against unknown magic.

Tiger as Thunderbolt threw his opponent a knife.  The quarterdeck was cleared.  And then Tiger gripped the stone and whispered, "If I was you--"

Whirrrr!  Zzzzt!

Whirrr!  Zzzzt!

Tiger steadied himself as Tiger and plunged ten inches of good steel into the heart of Old Thunderguts.

This feels kind of murder-y, doesn't it?  Tiger using magic to make someone agree to duel him and then stabbing them in the heart while they're still disoriented from having their soul moved from body to body.  I mean, he could've taken Thunderguts over and abruptly announced his retirement and Tiger's surprise appointment as his successor.  But nope, he killed the guy instead.  Simpler that way, isn't it?

So a "shudder of pleasure" goes through the ship's crewmen, that very physical happiness that comes from being commanded by a Hubbard Action Hero, but the late Thunderguts' guards had been ready to follow a nameless guy in the red shirt, and they immediately lunge at Tiger.  What follows is... not really an action sequence.  We get a paragraph explaining that Tiger learned how to fight with a rapier after becoming a baron, then two paragraphs summarizing the fight.  Unsurprisingly, Tiger is too skilled for anyone else to lay a finger on, and cuts down five grunts without breaking a sweat.  When Red Shirt himself presses our hero, Tiger fights him on the after house, throws a rope at his enemy to entangle him, then "with two quick punctures, let out Red Shirt's sinful life."

It's all so matter-of-fact, so disinterested compared to those old Hubbard Action Sequences that are still decades away from when this book was written.  Not a single exclamation point to be seen.  Guess even the author knew how much a foregone conclusion any battle against Tiger is, so why pretend there's any question over who will win it?

So Tiger strikes a heroic pose on the rear of the ship, with his headsilk glowing in the sun and his sword red with blood, and the crewmen cheer because now they're going to be commanded by a proper captain.  Our hero gives orders, installs his buddies as officers, and sticks Wanna in the "emperor"'s cabin because she's useless before bedtime.  By the end of the day the fleet of mangy pirates is starting to look more respectable, any recalcitrant captains have been giving a thumping by the new boss, and Tiger's fellow outlaws are worried that Tombo will come back once he learns he left the diamond behind, or that Arif will catch up with them.  Tiger's so unconcerned that the chapter ends with him saying "Pass the salt horse."

So while Palmer's situation back in Seattle has taken a turn for the worse, and will continue to decline, Tiger's star is rising even if there's... uh, other stars out there that are trying to kill him?  And want to take a planet from him?  At any rate, we're all set for yet another climactic naval battle.  But don't worry, Hubbard has more satire in store for us in the intervening chapters with Palmer, so at least some parts of this book will be entertaining.

Back to Chapter Six

1 comment:

  1. Balou and Tarbuton have to be really big. The absurdity of this story's premise really gets put into perspective when those are the only two populated areas of the other world. In the last story, Hubbard acknowledged that people of all races were walking around in Tarbuton, confirming that literally billions of human spirits have to be coming in their sleep from Asia, north America, South Africa, and everywhere else on Earth. There's only Tarbuton, the Ramus city, a big desert and that's it? Plus one other continent to the South with one city on it? It's absolutely ludicrous how many humans have to be crammed into those two cities.

    But we can dig deeper. If a woman gets pregnant on Earth, does another child have to be gestating in Tarbuton for the soul to have a dream body? For everyone? I mean, realistically children are conceived every second, so I guess it's not that outlandish that there would be a new body available in the other world, but it demands too much suspension of disbelief the more you think into it.