Friday, September 9, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Six - The Perils of Hiring Swedes

It's debatable whether it's better to let your spouse sleep if you find him or her or other slumped over their desk, or to wake them up and encourage them to get in a proper bed so they don't feel gross the next morning.  Alice evidently believes in the former approach, so Palmer wakes up feeling "none-too-oiled" the next morning.  He rings a bell to summon "the Swede girl" to make him some coffee while he "applied the materials necessary to make his cheeks smooth, like in the ads."  Which is to say that Palmer shaved.

I dunno, there's just something weird about this book, and not just from reading it right after the previous volume.  The POV has stopped jumping around so much, but there's still odd phrases like that, attempts at wry humor or something that just don't suit Hubbard at all.  Like he's trying to imitate Douglas Adams thirty years before The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came out, except Hubbard also wants to put in - well, we'll see soon enough.

Smooth-cheeked and caffeinated, Palmer sits down at his desk to study the diamond some more, and is so certain that it should be where he left it yesterday that it takes him a while to notice that it isn't right in front of him.  He searches his office, calls in the Swede girl to ask her about it, but she explains she "vas not seeing" a diamond and won't stand for any accusations of theft.  Except we don't see this interaction play out through dialogue, it's just summarized in a brief paragraph.  More evidence if you wanted to make the case that Hubbard was phoning this one in.

Palmer manages to mollify den svenska tjejen right before Alice comes in to tell him it's nine o'clock and he really needs to be at the office, before anyone on the board of directors tries to take over the company.  Again.  Hubbard inexplicably decides to give a belated description of Alice's character, and presents her as "a hard-eyed ex-businesswoman who had gotten her man and, having gotten him, was making very sure that he did all the business necessary not only for the money involved but also because she had a lifetime habit of keeping a man at his job."  Because it's just ludicrous to think that a woman might want a career of her own, especially after getting married.

Nothing we couldn't guess already, in other words, but Hubbard also insists that this is a recent change, that Alice had lost "something poetic" just as Palmer recently lost his courage.  We'll have to take his word for it, though - unlike Palmer, we never saw Alice's character change as a result of her becoming aware of her dual existence as Wanna.  So we can only speculate how that timid temple dancer rubbed off on Alice, and what "poetic" traits were gained, and lost, entirely off-camera between this book and the last.

Palmer meekly agrees to get moving, but remembers to ask his wife about a diamond, and she says yes she saw it, and it's much too expensive a present, "what with the government and its silly taxes and all.  You'll have barely enough cash to pay your income tax as it is, despite the fact that they are letting you keep one half of one percent of your own money this year and only telling you how to spend two-thirds of that."

Ladies and gentlemen and smizmars, I believe the Satire is well and truly beginning.  God help us all.

Palmer decides to let her keep believing that it's a present to be returned to the jewelry store rather than a magic rock that suddenly appeared in his pocket the other day, and asks where it is so he can go take it back.  But Alice can't quite remember, though she does think it might be in the pocket of one particular gown.  We get a paragraph of her summoning a maid and trying to find the specific outfit while Palmer hides his impatience, and in the end they realize the dress has been sent to the cleaners.  Then over the rest of the page we get a cursory description of how Palmer called the cleaners, learned the gown must still be on a truck, and so set out in his car, desperate to find the diamond even though he's not quite sure why, only that it might be connected to the strange nightmares he had last night.  He eventually tracks down the right vehicle, only to come up empty-handed when he searches its cargo of dirty laundry.

He goes home, defeated, only to be greeted at the door by Alice with the diamond in hand.  They found it under the bed.  Welp.

Jan sighed with relief and asked for it.

"Not until you give me a kiss," said Alice.  "There, that's a good boy."

Did Hubbard forget to write Palmer giving his wife the kiss?  'cause she went for asking for one to thanking him for one without any other indication that she'd actually gotten one.

But she didn't give up the diamond.  "If I were you," she said, "I--"

Whirr!  Zzzt!

No, no, we're going with the doodily-doodily-doodily sound effect, Hubbard, it's much more dignified.  But yeah, no sooner does Alice say these careless words than suddenly Palmer is looking at himself from the other side of the doorway.  And I have to say, this stupid diamond is awfully trigger-happy.  We went from Palmer saying "Good lord, I wish I was someone else" and thus activating it, to Wanna simply wishing that she was with her Tiger, to Alice speculating about if she was someone else.  Thing needs a child safety lock or something.

If this book were written thirty years later, there's no telling what kind of kinky stuff would have happened after Palmer and his wife swapped bodies, but in this case Hubbard is restrained enough to have Palmer immediately grab the diamond and say "Good lord, I wish I were Jan."  And with a Zzzt!  Whirr! doodily-doodily-doodily they're back in the right flesh sacks.

"Wha-what happened.  I-I-" gasped Alice.  "I-I'm sure I was you for a minute!  I felt as though-"

"Nonsense," said Jan hastily.  "Delusions, delusions.  Why don't you go see your Dianeticist.  Something restimulated, no doubt." 

You can just imagine the slow, incredulous smile that spread across my face when I got to this part.  Yes, Hubbard's program to cure all your physical and mental problems at very reasonable rates was launched in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, a few months before Masters of Sleep debuted in the October issue of Fantastic Adventures, so he decided to include it in this story as well.  Feels almost like cheating, writing a book in which your other product is wildly successful.  And kind of sad, too, like charging other people to read your wish-fulfillment fan fiction.

But this does lead to a possible answer to the question of why this story was written in the first place, so long after Slaves of Sleep, and when Hubbard seems oddly unenthusiastic about it - this nonsense about Palmer and the Two-World Diamond could be nothing more than a way of advertising Hubbard's entry in the self-help business, a story driven by the power of corporate synergy.

Let's get back to this joyless effort to shill pseudoscience.  Palmer doesn't go on to work like Alice wants, or does he drive off to take the diamond back to the jewelers.  Instead he locks himself in his study and gets out all the ancient tomes he has on Arabianology to try to find information about this thing.  By four o'clock he uncovers a reference to it in Ibn Mahmud's Magical Stones and Jewels of the Eastern Kingdoms, a book so rare and valuable that even Wikipedia hasn't heard of it.  The text's "Arabian script," which sounds a lot harder to read than plain old Arabic, describes the Two World Diamond as something that landed in a meteorite near Thebes, then was inscribed with a magical seal in Sulayman's workshops.  It also calls the sigil within it a tetrahedron even though we've wondered about this in the comments section of Chapter Three.  Oh, and the rock is two hundred and ninety-six carats, in case you wanted to try to attach a material value to this magical shiny thing.

Anyway, the Diamond is meant to command the air elementals, much like how the original Seal of Solomon is said to have bound genies to Solomon's will, but it can also move souls around, and has the quality of bind itself to whoever possesses it and travel between the world of genies and the world of men.  Neat.  Though designed to be used by a human, the jinn like the thing because they can use it to hop out of an old and dying body and take over a new one, kicking the body's previous owner's soul straight to hell.  Dick move, genies, but at least now we know why Ramus wanted her turn with the thing.

So there, the powers of this book's incredible magical artifact all laid out for us.  Makes you wonder why everyone hyped Solomon's magic ring when this puppy is so obviously superior to it.  On that note, once again said Seal of Sulayman is not so much as mentioned despite it being directly related to this artifact, and we're running out of chapters in which to learn what the hell happened to it.

Palmer reads the whole passage twice, feels foreboding from all this talk of jinn and magic, but keeps going through his books in hope of finding more information.  And then - dammit Hubbard, I just said the POV hopping had calmed down, and here you go again.

So while Palmer is pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, the Swede girl comes by with dinner since Alice is doing girly stuff this evening - and no, Hubbard didn't forget that Palmer locked himself inside his study, he mentions that Palmer had to let her in.  He'll let last book's magical artifact slip from memory, not minor details like this.  Anyway, she spies the huge diamond, then returns to the kitchens, where her fiancĂ©e is hanging about, a "sly-eyed lumberjack" who was actually just fired from his job at a lumber camp "up on the Skykomish or Snohomish or Snoqualimie or some equally Seattlesque name," so I guess he's just sly-eyed now.  Also, there's some more of that new Hubbard humor.

Anyway, he's not just a sly-eyed ex-lumberjack, this guy is also a lice-infested ex-lumberjack, so he wriggles.  A lot.  Several times a sentence, if Hubbard can help it.  And after his girlfriend describes this fist-sized stone, this ex-lumberjack suddenly remembers that he should leave for his meeting at the Friends of Russia Communist International Objectors Social Hall Lumberjacks Local No. 261, and also propaganda work to do as Chairman of the Committee for Making Dissatisfied Minorities Dissatisfied... okay, I'm scared.  This is starting to feel a lot like Mission Earth.  I've already read this stupid story but I'm still afraid that some lesbian is going to be raped straight in the next chapter.

So the lice-infested ex-lumberjack Communist wriggles his way down the driveway, then doubles back and wriggles his way to the shrubs outside Palmer's window.  Our protagonist has just been dismayed to learn that a work with additional information about the Two-World Diamond was lost when Julius Caesar burned down the Great Library of Alexandria, and doesn't hear someone use a wire to undo the latch of his window...

Okay, you'd think after Professor Frobish broke in, Palmer would have invested in better home security.  As it is, the ex-lumberjack breaks in and confronts Palmer with "the chief Communist political argument, the lead pipe."  Two whacks later and Palmer is out cold, while that dirty Communist is gleefully daydreaming about how many servants he'll be able to afford after he sells the diamond in his pocket.  Man, it's bad enough getting KO'd by a blunt instrument, but getting KO'd by a blunt instrument being wielded by a hypocrite is even worse.

And that's our chapter.  Sure was... something, wasn't it?  Learned a lot plot-wise, and learned a lot about what the author might have been doing when he wrote this turkey.

Back to Chapter Five

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