Friday, September 23, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Twelve - Running in Circles

Once again Palmer wakes up with the distinct impression that he was very recently on a boat, only to realize that no, he's actually still stuck in the loony bin.  Dr. Dyhard is showing two "internes" the "Let me out.  Let me out" guy and complaining if the patient had been more of a schizophrenic then the procedure would be more successful, but stumbles and stammers whenever they ask what was specifically wrong with the guy.  Then the muttering patient gets hauled away in a straightjacket so Dyhard can try to cut out whatever part of the brain makes him so noisy.

Palmer spends a good, fat paragraph reflecting on what he learned of elementary psychology back in 1936, which stressed the importance of the very frontal lobe that these modern quacks are so keen on scrambling, and wonders why anyone would try to cure insanity by cutting up the part of the brain that regulates rational thinking.  "Could it be that some of the those 'healers' through long association with insanity were, themselves, no longer sane?"  Perhaps.  Alternatively, maybe Palmer's old professor was wrong when he concluded that man's mighty frontal lobe "probably contained the ability to rationalize," which according to Wikipedia is a view that's been challenged by recent research on great ape brains.  Also note that the article doesn't even use the word "rational," and explains that lobotomies and the like were attempts to reduce the patient's distress, not fillet the part of the brain that let them talk.

Either way, Palmer is not looking forward to brain surgery, especially after the hospital nurses deposit "a something" in the cell across from his that stares vacantly and silently at the ceiling - "The operation had been an entire success."  But he doesn't resist when they come for him next, since he figures he should save his escape attempt for a more opportune moment.  Which is to say, it wouldn't be very dramatic if he managed to break out before we properly experienced the horrors of neurosurgery.

Palmer's wheeled into the operating room, Dyhard gets suited up in his surgery kit, and Palmer desperately offers the nurses a bribe to let him go.

"I can pay you twenty thousand dollars apiece if you will get me out of here!" he said urgently to the male nurses.  "I'm Jan Palmer, head of Bering Steam-"

"Pleased to meetcha.  I'm Rockefeller," said the shorter nurse.

No, no, you're Rockecenter.  Can't be too obvious with our satire, see?

Since that fails, Palmer bursts into action, chopping a "rabbit punch" to hit a man in the base of the skull when he tries to strap him down, then double-kicks the other orderly backwards.  He nearly makes it out of the operating room but the guard outside gets him in a bear hug and hauls him back.  So he gets strapped to the table with his head held still in a vice, they shave half his hair, and set out the tools for the operation - "a device like a brace and bit which was obviously used to drill a circle out of the skull," as well as some wire loops and knives and hooks.  All Palmer can do now is beg his captors not to kill the part of the brain that makes him him, but Dyhard has eyes like someone "in a Roman audience or in a father accustomed to beat his child or an executioner bent on doing his public duty."  And personally I would have picked only one of those similes instead of slathering it on that thick, but what do I know.

A cone shoved in his face hits Palmer with nitrous oxide, and he tries to hold his breath but can't.  So, who's up for some brain surgery?

The point of the bit began to screw into his bone.  His scalp jerked away from it.  He tried to keep from taking another breath but could not.  The cone spun faster and faster before him.  The bit was finding a hold in his skull and the worm was going deeper.  The extension blade began to sweep a circle.

Somwhat understated and mechanical compared to Gris' surgery in Mission Earth book three, but more effective I think than a lot of "FLASH!"es and "YEEOW!"s.

But then... man, I don't know how it works.  Two chapters ago it was Palmer hitting his chin on the table that knocked some Tiger back into him, while in this case it's a drill making its way into his skull that accomplishes the same.  So Palmer suddenly sees a ship's lantern instead of the anesthesia cone, and is filled with both pain and rage, and flexes his arms, and

There was the crack and pop of webbing, the rip of canvas jacketing and the snap of laces which went like thread.

Tiger, strong and mighty, snatched at the auger and twisted it out of his skull!  He sent the instrument crashing into Dyhard's face.  With a leap he came off the table, leaving the frayed straps behind and with a sudden snatch had in his hands the heads of the nurses.  He smashed them together and with a vicious raise of his knees, now right, now left, he wrecked his assailants for days to come.

Okay, I can get Palmer's "Tiger" personality knowing how to fight better than the meek boat enthusiast.  I'm just confused how Tiger was able to use the very same muscles to rip free of his restraints.  What's the explanation for that?  Does Tiger know how to use Palmer's muscles better than he does, and can get more done with them?  Is Tiger pushing Palmer's muscles past their safe limits, like how people in moments of stress are able to lift cars off their loved ones?  If so, why wasn't Palmer's adrenaline surge at the prospect of getting lobotomized enough to do the same?  And why hasn't any other patient managed to escape this way?  What, they couldn't channel Napoleon Bonaparte or whoever to get the berserk strength necessary to break free?

Whatever.  There's a moment of delicious irony or something when Dyhard starts panicking and babbling "I'm caught!  I'm trapped!" like Palmer's old roommate, and then a moment of satisfying revenge or something when Tiger jams Dyhard's skull underneath the "steam sterilizer" and slams it with enough force to nearly break the man's neck.  Then he rushes out of the operating room and in all of two sentences manages to burst out of the hospital.

A car was on the drive, Dyhard's.

How does Palmer know that?

Tiger paused for an instant, disoriented, blinking in the afternoon sunlight.  Suddenly, from a dual nature, he became himself a unity anew.

Yes, somehow Palmer's time in a mental hospital has cured his existential confusion.  He is no longer Jan Palmer the millionaire or Tiger the pirate, but Jan the Tiger, the complete package, combining scholarly wisdom with bold action!

Again.  Over the course of this book we've managed to return to where we were at the end of last book.

Insensibly separated after the Curse had unified his two natures once before, Jan the Tiger was oriented well in two worlds.  Half of his mind knew suddenly things the other half knew.

Like whose car that was in the driveway?

However he knows it, Tiger-Palmer understands that the Two-World Diamond was in Thunderguts' safe in Genie World because it was in Palmer's safe in Human World, but vanished when it was moved from the latter.  And since he's about to get attacked by a genie fleet in one world and charged with potentially murder in the other - "for he could not guess whether or not he had killed anyone in that operating room" - he really needs a Dues Ex Machina diamond to save his ass.

So he drives off for a bit before ditching the stolen car... wait, how'd he start it?  Did he pickpocket Dyhard's keys when we weren't looking?  Oh, Wikipedia says the first ignition keys were introduced by Chrysler in 1949.  Guess with old cars you just pushed a button to start them or something.  And Dyhard forgot to lock his doors.  Anyway, Palmer-Tiger ditches the car and takes a cab home, pops in and out to throw some money at the guy before the cops find him, then starts looking for the Diamond.

Alice is there eating supper, but Palmer walks by "without a nod," and her only reaction is to note that "aside from his determined stride and face, he looked just like Jan."  No delighted cry of "Honey!" or anything, or even shock that he's back unexpectedly early.  She doesn't even remark that half his head and shaved and someone's tried to bore a hole in it.  She does follow him into his study, however, where Palmer checks the safe but finds it empty, no surprise.

"Who took that diamond?" he said sharply.

"Isn't it there?" she said.

And that's these lovers' first interaction after being reunited after some very trying times.

Palmer belatedly notices that someone's drilled holes in his safe, remembers that the Diamond wound up in the hands of Muddy McCoy in Genie World, and concludes that McCoy and Chan Davies the communist ex-lumberjack are the same person.  He asks if Alice has seen "that Commie" around, Alice finally asks what Palmer's doing home instead of getting "one of these splendid new scientific operations that make everybody so well.  Didn't you want to go through with it?"  Instead of answering "NO!" or slapping her, Palmer just repeats his question, and Alice admits that yes, she hired the guy who hit her husband with a lead pipe, but he quit.

As a police siren nears and tires come up the driveway, Palmer tells his wife not to let anyone know he's here, then goes to interview The Swede Girl.  She's distraught that her "boyfriend" has ditched her, but eventually Palmer "extracted" Davies' location at the Friends of Russia Social Hall.  He slips out a back door and gets in Alice's coup, and waits for a moment, expecting the police to be sent away by his wife.  Alas, "he had not reckoned upon the propaganda which tells a public about the glories of neurosurgery."  PR isn't mentioned by name, but you know it has seduced Palmer's wife and turned her against him.

With no other options, Palmer guns it and blows past the cops in the front yard, then manages to lose his pursuers by slipping past a train that forces the other cars to stop.  In one of those convenient coincidences he reaches the social hall's front steps just as Davies is coming down them, Davies screams and flees when he sees Palmer after him, Palmer rushes after him...

There was the crack of a pistol shot.  Jan's leg buckled under him.  He fell.  There was a slam as Davies made the back door and vanished and then two police officers were standing over Jan, steel bracelets ready.  There was a click and Jan's arms were cuffed behind his back.

One of the officers is named Mike, just like the pair that arrested Palmer back in Slaves of Sleep chapter two.  An intentional call-back, a little bonus for his fans?  Or is Hubbard so uncreative that he's reusing names without realizing it?  At any rate, they talk about how this guy is "Screwy as a bedbug on the subject of Commies" and gets ready to send Palmer back to the good Dr. Dyhard.

And so the theme of going in circles continues, as Palmer is hauled back right to where he'd escaped from.  But it's the journey that's really important, right?

Back to Chapter Eleven


  1. Gris got brain surgery in book 3? I can't even remember that. Was it to undo the hypnosis that Countess Krak did to make him feel sick to his stomach any time he dared to dislike Heller? (Seems like the kind of hypno helmets any fanfic author would want to have handy)

  2. Not quite brain surgery, but Gris did have Prahd and his underage nurse stick a doodad in his skull and insisted it be done with anesthesia. I've added a link to the relevant chapter in the post above.

  3. So Gris getting a hypno-helmet blocking chip inserted into his brain was actually Hubbard's jab at psychologists for endorsing lobotomies? (with Gris being the hapless victim for buying into psychology and psychiatry)

    Wow, I never made this connection until now when I read this spork about Dr. Dyhard. Either I'm an idiot, or it's because I just assumed pychology had nothing to do with lobotomies so the "satire" just flew over my head.