Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Master of None

Slaves of Sleep stands out as a rare Hubbard story that isn't undermined by the author's failures when it comes to science or history, a mostly harmless fantasy romp whose worst flaw is its anticlimactic finale.  Masters of Sleep, though, is just a headscratcher.  You might think that since it's so similar to its predecessor that it might earn the same "it's average" review, yet the fact that it is so similar in itself raises further questions.

The obvious one is "Why did this story need to be written?"  It was published a decade after Slaves of Sleep, too long for it to be in response to hypothetical reader demand for a sequel.  It more or less recycles the previous story's plot, so Hubbard might as well have released a Slaves of Sleep: Anniversary Edition with additional commies and Dianetics references, rather than spending his time writing a "new" tale that hit all the same beats as the last one.

It's possible that Hubbard earnestly believed that he had a decent yarn to tell about Palmer and Tiger's further adventures in their respective worlds, though this would be sad.  Sure, there's plenty of works out there in various forms of media that come out every issue/week/year and do exactly what they did last issue/week/year, but these tend to be stories where the hero defeats a bad guy, rides off into the sunset, wanders into a new setting, and finds new evil to fight.  But Slaves of Sleep arrived at a very definite Happy Ending, with Palmer/Tiger becoming a better person and securing his/their independence and success.  Since there's nowhere to go from there, Masters of Sleep is all about returning things to how they were at the end of the first book.  It's not so much about the continued adventures of Tiger-Palmer as it is about Palmer-Tiger redoing his/their previous adventure, which again begs the question of why Hubbard didn't just rewrite that first adventure.

Another theory is that this was all an exercise in corporate synergy, a way for Hubbard to namedrop Dianetics in a story and try to pique readers' interest so they'd buy his guide to ultimate self-improvement.  But if so, it's an uncharacteristically subtle effort, since Dianetics is mentioned less than half a dozen times in the book.  There's also the problem, if you're trying to sell your self-help book about purging subconscious negative thoughts until you gain perfect recall and 20/20 vision, of doing so in a fantasy story about souls moving between the world we're familiar with and a world of genies.  Readers might get confused, and start to wonder if Dianetics will help them get in touch with their counterparts in the Land of Sleep, or purge those nasty genies from their bodies.

Now, given how much of Masters of Sleep's plot revolves around Palmer being in danger of getting his brains scrambled by a quack psychologist, it's possible that this book is Hubbard's first shot in the campaign against psychiatry that would consume much of his later life.  But if Hubbard wanted to write an exposé on the horrors of neurosurgery, is a story about genies and magic diamonds the best way to deliver it?  You might as well rail against psychiatry in a book about alien spies trying to prepare Earth for an interplanetary invasion.

The other baffling thing about this book is how, even as it repeats the story of Slaves of Sleep while ostensibly serving as a sequel to it, Masters of Sleep ignores or changes key facts laid out by its predecessor.  The most glaring example of this is the unexplained absence of the Seal of Sulayman, that magic bracelet that Zongri coveted and Tiger used to defeat his enemies and find success.  Solomon's emblem is mentioned in Masters of Sleep, mainly in regards to how the Two-World Diamond is a "three dimensional" variation of it, but the bracelet itself is mysteriously absent.  No excuse is offered as to why Tiger doesn't have it in the sequel, and Tiger doesn't even acknowledge that he ever used it to get where he is at the start of the story.

It's like Hubbard realized that a magic bracelet that can knock down walls, destroy ships, and make weapons fall apart in their wielders' hands is something too powerful for the hero to have at the start of the story... but couldn't think of any way to get rid of it, or any excuse for Tiger not using it.  Not even a half-assed "its powers faded with each use," or "it mysteriously vanished one morning."  So he decided to just not mention it and hope that nobody noticed.

Then there's the mechanics of the "one soul, two bodies" situation.  At the end of Slaves of Sleep, Palmer has been "cursed" by a powerful genie's magic with "Eternal" Wakefulness, which serves to make him a better-rounded person.  The story also suggests that this awareness of his dual lives will fade in a matter of weeks, but since the ending is presented as happy, we're probably meant to assume that Palmer's character development - which is to say the Tiger traits he's adopted - will be permanent even if he's not living a continuous consciousness that alternates between worlds.

Except Masters of Sleep undoes this, and explains that yes, Palmer got less Tiger-ish as time went by and became a meek businessman domineered by his new wife Alice, who turns out to have been a vapid domestic type all along.  So when Tiger takes that head injury during his capture at the start of the book and gets hit with that ineffable sense of loss... well, what has he lost?  Nothing he wouldn't have lost naturally.  And nothing vital to succeeding at the end of this story - there's nothing particularly Palmer-ish about being smart enough to use a magic diamond to banish your enemies.  The only chapter Tiger is really influenced by his otherworldly counterpart is when he decides to wait for the genie fleet to attack instead of doing something impulsive, but since the Two-World Diamond leaves his possession before the fleet arrives, and Tiger finds a way to defeat it anyway, he doesn't really need Palmer's help.

Palmer gets more use out of Tiger's influence when he uses it to break out of the asylum, but he was only put into the asylum after Tiger's influence led him to savagely attack someone.  And if the "two souls as one" thing from the end of last book wore off eventually, why is it so triumphant when the same thing happens again this book?  Are things different now that Tiger-Palmer has the Two-World Diamond?  But if he/they lost the Seal of Sulayman between last book and this one, who's to say Tiger won't lose his latest acquisition in a poker game or something?

That's the problem with recycling the previous book's plot, there's no character development or anything, so there's no impression that this happy ending will stick when the last one didn't.  So after 140 pages of sailing and swordfights and magic rocks and psychiatrists, we end up back where we were at the end of the last book.  The only differences are that our hero(es) have a different magic item they may or not be able to hold onto, and Tiger gets promoted from baron to king.  So again, what was the point?

Probably the same point behind most of Hubbard's work, which is to say he was willing to submit it and somebody was willing to publish it.

On the other hand, there's something reassuring about Hubbard getting back on (out of?) form after the burst of competence shown in Slaves of Sleep.  As for the next novel this blog will cover, it's simultaneously an old pulp story like Hubbard's early work and a meta tale about storytelling itself.  Tune in next week to see if it turns out more like Slaves of Sleep or Masters of Sleep.

1 comment:

  1. A meta tale about storytelling itself... you mean this blog? Did Hubbard write a sporking? Are YOU the scientological alien ghost of Hubbard writing sporkings of his past work?