Friday, October 14, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Two - Mano-a-Mano, Mano, Mano and Mano

The good news is that Mike de Wolf has a body again, the bad news is that it's getting tossed around by crashing waves against jagged rocks.  There's no time to think, Mike can only instinctively cling to the sand when he feels it under his fingers, and drag himself out of the surf to sprawl face-down on a beach.  He's bleeding and nauseous from seawater in his belly, and he's so exhausted that he does nothing but lie where he is even after he hears the distant "rattle of musketry."  And this is problematic, but just wait a moment.

Eventually instinct tells Mike that he needs to get up, plus the back of his neck is sunburned and flies are starting to land on his head.  There's no further sounds of gunfire, but there is "a faint whir, reminiscent of a typewriter, which seemed to come out of the sky."  This is an odd sound to come from the heavens, but Mike thinks no more on the matter.  That's forgivable, he's pretty woozy from his injuries.

He takes stock of his surroundings, and finds himself on a short beach against a wall of tropical foliage, while broken pieces of wood and tangles of rigging start to wash to shore around him.  Mike has no idea where he is or how he got there - but "Suddenly he was beset by an incredible memory," of being aboard a galleon in a raging battle, with pinnacles and spars and scupper ports and linstocks and everything.  And someone had called him "Your lordship" and he had given the order to open fire.

In other words, a character in a Hubbard story is suddenly and mysteriously knowing something.  But unlike in, say, Mission Earth, said character is actually acknowledging how weird and convenient this is, and he's just a surprised as we are.  The best explanation Mike can come up with is that the lobster he had for supper last night is giving him a crazy nightmare.

My only problem with this situation is that Mike is admitting how weird it is to remember this battle but not that he, a 20th century man, was able to recognize the sound of muskets firing.  If it sounds distinct from modern firearms, it's odd that Mike is experienced enough to know the difference.  If it sounds similar to modern firearms, Mike's first response should have been to assume it's just gunfire without being so specific.  If he'd just do a mental-double take and ask himself why he was so sure he was hearing musketry, we'd be set, but as it is it's an oversight.

But enough nitpicking, let's get things moving.  An explosion of sand near his hand and the crack of multiple firearms indicates that someone is trying to shoot Mike, so he scrambles to his feet and flees into the jungle.  He can hear people behind him shouting stuff like "There he went!" and "Get behind him!", and it's not a nice thing for a bunch of strangers to be so set on killing you.  He can even hear a horse running along the beach he's escaping from.  Not a good situation by any means.

He felt like a rabbit, having no arms whatever.  If only he had a gun or-


He felt himself smitten about the waist - and lo! he had a buckler and sword!  The rapier lay naked in the sling, without a scabbard, the way bravoes wore them of old.  The hilt of the weapon was gold, and studded with round-cut precious stones.  And in clear letters on the steel was stamped "Toledo" and "Almirante de Lobo."

Huh, lucky break.  Heller usually had to reach up his own ass to pull out the weapon he needed to win the day.

Mike doesn't waste any time wondering at this miraculous turn of events, but spends a moment trying and failing to control his temper, before giving up and striding out to face his foes, weapon in hand.  Four hostile swashbucklers are waiting for him, and they exchange banter like "Use your pistol, you English dogs, or I'll spit you like a roasting chicken and feed you to the sharks!" and "I'll take you on meself, me bucko, and send your ears back to 'is most Catholic majesty with the compliments of my bully boys."  Despite the leader's boast of taking Mike down personally, it's a four-on-one, then an eight-on-one fight, and no I don't know where the other four swashbucklers came from either, it just kind of happens in the space of a sentence.  By now you should realize that we're in the sort of story where this thing can happen and isn't necessarily due to the author being sloppy.  Or rather, there is a sloppy author involved, it's just not necessarily Hubbard.

Anyway, Mike takes down two enemies in a single sentence - and it's not even a proper Hubbard Action Sequence, just "Mike sent the rapier singing into the throat of one and then into the heart of the other."  But then he's disarmed and can do nothing but stand and wait for death, only for someone to shout "Stay!" and ride into the midst of the brawl on that horse he heard earlier.

The interloper is "A flame-headed woman, imperious and as lovely as any statue from Greece," and she proceeds to chew out the "wretches," demand that they return the "gentleman"'s sword, and tells them to "Handle your own bloody business" when they try to protest that Mike is a dirty Spaniard, and threatens them with a gibbet.  Which should all sound very familiar if we were paying attention last chapter.

So the bad guys leave, and suddenly "Swish!  Swirl!", Mike is wearing black silk and a plumed wide-brimmed hat.  There's nothing to do but doff the "miraculous hat" and bow before his rescuer, but he's so exhausted that he face-plants onto one of the dead swashbucklers, eww.

And that ends our chapter.  It's take another twenty-something pages for our hero to figure it out, but to us it should be obvious that Mike has somehow wound up in the hastily-assembled pirate story his friend Hackett was on the verge of writing.  The ol' "Trapped in TV Land" scenario.  Except with a book.  And it's what may be the first example of such stories.  And more entertainingly, we'll see how a fairly normal person fares when trapped in a world of pulp schlock.

As an aside, I'm calling our main character Mike instead of de Wolf not out of any sense of familiarity with the fellow, but because I don't like starting sentences with lowercase letters.  On the other hand, this may be the most sympathetic protagonist Hubbard has ever given us, so it doesn't feel wrong to be on a first-name basis with him.

Back to Chapter One

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