Monday, November 7, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Eleven - But the Future Refused to Change

Back in the story... or, the story being written in the story we're reading... Mike has spent three days desperately putting together defenses to save Nombre de Dios from pirates.  Cannons have been salvaged from the wreck of the Josef y Maria, hundreds of slaves have sweated putting together fortifications along the shore, and while "sudden reinforcements of one character or another had magically appeared," Mike sourly tells the governor that at best they'll be able to make things "uncomfortable" for Bristol's sea dogs.

The governor doesn't like this pessimism, and tells Mike to go home and get some rest.  Our hero starts trudging along the path out of town, when-

And then it happened!

There was a ripping sound somewhere high overhead.  The whole coast trembled!  There was a repetition of splashes in the harbor and a shaking roar along the beach!  All went dark!

Mike was no longer on the path; he was on the quarterdeck of the Josef y Maria!

Yes, as if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, everything's changed.  The shore battery Mike (well, slave labor) spent days putting together is gone, but the fort on the north side of the channel is now twice as large and has a twin on the south side, the town itself is larger and more boisterous, and the harbor is filled with Spanish ships.  There's a full moon in the sky even though Mike last saw it in its last quarter, and the late Captain Fernando steps forward to inform the almirante that a fleet of pirates has been sighted just a few leagues away.

Or in other words, Hackett tore up the last few chapters and did those rewrites his editor wanted.

It's a neat idea, but it just raises more and more nagging questions the more you think about it, specifically about how time works in this situation.  If Mike had to live through all those months the almirante spent preparing his forces, why didn't he suddenly have to relive everything his character went though to get to this new scenario?  If Mike was taking months to go through the book's timeline while Hackett was churning this crap out in a few days, wouldn't Hackett be able to go back and change the book's ending before Mike reached it?  And if Mike is aware of his character's past even if he hasn't necessarily lived it, how would he remember the original way things went instead of getting partially-rewritten himself?

I almost want to try to chart this out in MS Paint, but it's probably not worth it.  Just a book, I should really just relax.  Or rather get back to fretting about the election while not sweating the metaphysical and metafictional details of a century-old story.

Fernando's miraculous reappearance is accompanied by the rattling of a typewriter in the heavens, so Mike is stuck saying his character's dialogue where he swears that in the morning "those English dogs will be shark bait" like a true villain.  Worse, when Father Mercy shows up, Mike agrees to his request that any captives be given over to the rack, along with Bristol, "if there's anything left" of him by the time the almirante is through with him.

"The English girl," said Father Mercy.  "What about her now?"

"The Lady Marion," said Mike, angry at being a puppet but helpless, "is my particular own - if I can tame her."

Father Mercy grinned evilly and drifted away.

And it's only then that the typewriter fades and Mike is able to lean against a railing, fretting about what he's said and what must have changed.  He doesn't give a Psychlo's eleventh finger about the dead men and ruined ships rising from the depths or the moon changing - though Mike does ask Captain Fernando about them.  The officer insists he's seen things like the moon changing shape and considers it "The will of God," and as far as Fernando knows the fleet has been there all along.

No, what's got Mike really worried is what these retcons mean for his relationship with Lady Marion.  He goes home to check on her and finds her under guard, and when Mike steps inside,

Tall and regal, her face wreathed with disdain, she faced him.  "Well, now, Sir Admiral!  You did not expect Bristol to come, and yet come he has!  And he'll pick your rotten bones before night."

"Aye, so even you think he's a vulture!" said Mike.  He had tried to stop that, but now again he was aware of the clicking sound on high.

"Now go to your defeat!" said the Lady Marion.  "My curse shall follow you!"

Yep, she's gotten retconned too.  Mike's efforts to win Marion over, the happy months they spent together, the blossoming relationship between a fictional character and someone who had an electrical accident in his friend's bathroom, it's all been torn out, wadded up and thrown in the trash.  Mike's not a hero antagonist anymore, he's an evil cliche who kidnapped the hero's girlfriend in vain hopes of making her his bride.

I think this is the first time in a Hubbard story that a character has really lost something and I've felt sorry for them because of it.  Mike's trying to make a difference, trying to turn his life around, trying to make his own way in the world, but forces beyond his control are foiling his every effort to change things, and worse, trapping him under the label of a villain.  It's more effective than those times that Heller or Yellow Hair or Yellow Heller or whoever think they've lost their shallow female love interests because we know they're going to turn up safe and sound by the end of the story, while in Mike's case, he's pretty much doomed.

So Mike is utterly "Desolated" by this development, but only for a moment.  Then he gets angry, furious that all his efforts were undone just for the benefit of "Bristol, a damned puppet!"

"Damn you!" said Mike, shaking his fist at the sky.  "I'll show you!  Do you hear me?  I'll knock your fair-haired son of a witch into the briny and then we'll see what you'll do about it!  I'm going to win!"

All Mike can do now is embrace his role as the story's villain and do his best to kill Bristol in hopes of somehow winning Marion back afterwards.  So he goes back to his flagship, assembles his officers, and lays out the battle plan - break up, encircle and savage Bristol's armada so that the remnants are forced into the teeth of Nombre de Dios' gun batteries.

It's a good plan, I suppose.  But it's a plan devised by someone a story has decided is the villain, for the final battle against who the story has declared a hero.  That's probably why Mike is "resolute," but not "glowing with confidence" like his officers at the end of the chapter - like us, he knows this isn't going to end in his favor.


Back to Chapter Ten

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