Friday, October 21, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Five part one - Who Writes This Crap?

Bleh, decide if you want short seven-page chapters or enormous thirty-page chapters, Hubbard.

Mike de Wolf may be a bit of a dilettante, but he knows some stuff, and has been places.  He spent some time in the West Indies on a cruise and dabbled with painting some of the "native women with baskets on their heads" before giving up and tossing the results overboard.  He also remembers some of the information from the tourist's guidebook, as well as stuff from basic geography.  And thus he knows that wherever he is, it ain't St. Kitts.

The fortress-manor he's in is meant to be Brimstone Hill, except the year is supposed to be 1640, while Mike knows that the fort itself was built after the American Revolution.  Mike also remembers the island's history and how the French and English both had colonies there, so it's odd that there's no Frenchmen around.  He even knows that Sir Thomas Warner is supposed to be the island's governor at this time, which makes this Lord Carstone a bit of an anomaly.  And the island's harbor is too round, entered through a channel equipped with flashing lights, like a modern port.  And it'll get even worse later in the chapter.

The point is, Mike can now discount the 'time travel' theory because he's obviously not in the real St. Kitts.  But when he thinks about "Blood and Loot," and visualizes Hackett sitting at a typewriter surrounded by cigarette butts, Mike's mind recoils, and he cannot accept the answer that he's been dancing around since two chapters ago.  Instead Mike reflects more on his situation, how there's hostile Maroons and a Hubbard Action Hero out to get him, and what he's done since washing up on this strange island.

Two men he had killed on the beach and wounded another tonight.  And he had bested them with a rapier - a weapon about which he knew nothing, but which in his hands became abrupt demise.  And there was something else - his head felt quite all right and the bandage about it had mysteriously vanished; further, his side felt as good as new and there was no pull of tape there.  What mad world was this in which a man became possessed of sudden talents and healed in minutes?  And then his sword scabbard and cape and hat had appeared magically overnight.

It's stuff like this that makes me really wonder about Hubbard.

The easy way out is to assume that here he's critiquing other pulp authors while being oblivious to the things he's done in his own stories - Buckskin Brigades had muddled chronology, a hero who ignored his injuries unless it was more dramatic for him to have a handicap, and was able to learn new skills astonishingly quickly.  But it may be more likely that Hubbard is being self-deprecating here, or maybe confessing the little sins he's committed over his career in the pulps.  If that's the case, it's interesting that he's not trying to justify or excuse them - Mike isn't embracing these sudden skills so he can enjoy his role as a swashbuckling admiral in the Caribbean, or even admitting that he doesn't mind such conveniences in the stories he reads but not in 'real life.'  Hubbard's just cataloguing these anachronisms and inconsistencies as things that happen in literature and letting the reader do with them as they will.  Which is just bizarre coming from the guy who would later pound the reader with the Psychology Bad! mallet over and over.

But I wonder - if Hubbard was able to recognize these failings, these mistakes and shortcomings a pulp writer may commit in the rush to churn out copy, why did he keep making them throughout the rest of his career?  This story came out in the middle of his short fiction period, remember, so there's another decade of pulp tales that come after this one, to say nothing of some horrendous novels.

Well, in fairness I can't think of any major continuity errors in the stories I've covered on this blog, no cases where Heller or whoever suddenly had a gun they didn't in the previous chapter.  And since Hubbard focused on science fiction for the most part, there aren't any glaring historical anachronisms beyond the wonky timeline in Buckskin Brigades.  So maybe he figured that since he wasn't making those mistakes, he was practically flawless.

Back to the story.  Mike has a bit of an existential crisis when he tries to reconcile his memories of being, well, himself, with a bunch of other stuff - memories of a love interest named Anne and "a Carib slave girl" who might be gazing wistfully at the horizon while waiting for his return, memories of a giant named Trombo and a sadistic Father Mercy, memories of Valencia and Morocco and Panama that are all essential to the backstory of Miguel Saint Raoul de Lobo, but not Mike.  He's even got a proclamation from King Philip, in readable Spanish, authorizing him to hunt those pirates of the Caribbean, a pretty damning document that he ought to keep hidden from all these Spaniard-hating Englishmen.

No sooner does Mike shove the thing down his doublet than he hears Lady Marion walking along the fort wall nearby.  I didn't know Mike was on the parapets, but then again I though Mike was in a mansion, not a fortress, until the start of this chapter.  Marion's gazing down at the harbor in a way that makes Mike jealous, so he gets her attention with a polite "Milady" and greets her.

She started and then smiled uncertainly at him.

"The unfortunate lesson merited by Captain Braumley and administered by myself seems to have upset you.  Forgive such actions on my part..."

Good Lord!  What was wrong with him that he had to talk in such a stilted way?  And - Yes!  There was the sound of that typewriter again!

Oh good, Hackett's back from the club.

They make small talk, and Mike spends a good paragraph quietly awed by Marion's beauty, but then she expresses her hope that he'll get along with Captain Bristol, who might not like Mike's Spanish heritage.  She admits that Bristol's crew is a bunch of "wild devils" and "restless spirits" who came to the New World as deserters or prisoners, and Bristol himself had a run-in with an inquisitor who sent him to a slave galley, so yeah, not fans of aristocratic Spanish officers.  Mike wisely moves the topic from politics to Lady Marion herself, and reveals that her father seemed proud of her when they talked after dinner.  She admits that Lord Carstone had some difficulty accepting her since she's inherently inferior for not being born a son, but Mike continues to pour on the charm.

They walk through the fort-mansion until they're in Marion's drawing room, and Mike realizes there's a piano there - "He blinked wonderingly at the gold letters: Steinway, Chicago."  Take a break, Hackett, you're drunk.  But Mike doesn't start ranting at this blatantly out-of-place musical instrument, or curl into a little ball of temporal despair.  Nope, he just rolls with it.  He's not embracing the madness, not just yet, he's just not going to spend a single sentence reacting to this development.

Instead, when Marion pours some wine and raises a toast "To the Empire of England in the New World," Mike says "I drink only to your beauty," and after draining his glass starts toying with the piano's keys.  Marion continues talking about her past, how her father changed when her mother died, how he gave her toys like toy guns and a sailing boat that turned her into the feisty tomboy she is today, and wonders how she's supposed to find happiness if men are intimidated by her strength while she couldn't stand being married to a man weaker than her.

Through this, Mike plays some soft and thematically-appropriate music on the piano, moved by her beautiful melancholy.  But eventually Marion points out that she's told him about her troubles, so it's only fair that he share his own.

"Ah, but you would not believe mine," said Mike.  "You could not understand the story of a man trapped into a world quite foreign to him, playing a rĂ´le 

I thought at first that it was a smudge on the page, but nope, it looks deliberate.  It's another of Hubbard's technically correct but dated or esoteric word choices.  Guy had a gift.

which he does not understand, distrusting the reality of all things on earth and above, seeing no reason and having his own outraged, believing that all will fade too soon and grasping the fleeting instants of joy which, like gentle clouds hiding a scorching sun, too often and too swiftly blow away."

I can see where Hubbard is going with this, but I think he's putting it on too thick.  Mike just talking about playing an unfamiliar role might be a nice dual allusion to him playing an admiral in the story and "de Lobo" trying to act like a gentleman in an English household, with the nice foreshadowing that he's for all intents and purposes a Spanish fugitive pretending to be a harmless Irishman.  But the stuff about "distrusting the reality of all things" tips the balance more towards crazy person.

Marion isn't bothered, though, and takes another moment to consider this swordsman-musician.

Ah, yes, he was a very strange fellow.  A strangely fascinating fellow.  Here was not the straightforward bravery of Bristol, but the ultimate in gentility.  Fearing weakness in her eyes, no man had ever played to her or said such fragile things to her before.  But then, she sighed, there would be some flaw in him.  There must be.  There was in every other man.  Some failing, perhaps a lack of courage in war or clearness in thought...

Wait.  We're hearing Marion's thoughts.  We've shifted from a narrative focused tightly on Mike (or Hackett) to a wandering third-person omniscient narrator.

No, no, this doesn't work.  It could work, if maybe Mike realized with wonder and horror that he could somehow read Marion's internal monologue as part of his growing awareness of the story surrounding him.  But if the plot is about Mike getting dropped into a crappy pirate story, you don't want to spend too much time looking through the eyes of the literary constructs surrounding him, it raises some prickly questions.

Bleh.  Marion suddenly realizes that she's spent so long contemplating Mike that she's completely forgotten about Bristol sailing into town, just in time for a trumpet to declare the buccaneer's arrival.  And that's where we'll stop for now, because the next twenty pages get pretty busy.

Back to Chapter Four 

No comments:

Post a Comment