So this chapter thankfully takes us away from the Psychlos... and introduces us to the guy that I think is supposed to be the protagonist: Jonnie Goodboy Tyler.
Yes, that name is for real. It's not a joke, either from me or Hubbard. Part of his character's name is what you yell at dogs when they bring you a tennis ball.
And as if the "Goodboy" wasn't a tipoff that he's a Gary Stu, we quickly learn that he's tall, tanned, muscular, has flowing golden hair and ice blue eyes, and is generally a physically perfect specimen despite living in a radioactive zone that makes your gonads cry, turn green and fall off. He's essentially a Caveman Ken Doll.
And honestly, there's a... really uncomfortable aspect to how Hubbard describes Jonnie's appearance, especially his hair color and the emphasis on how perfect he is. Maybe this is my bias in play, but... if your hero and his girlfriend are the type of people who would make Hitler nod approvingly, maybe you need to rethink yourself.
But wait, it gets worse.
It was a good day for a funeral, only it seemed there wasn't going to be one.
This would be a more compelling moment.... if there wasn't a funeral later. Durr.
Jonnie is pissed because his father has just died of... something. I assume it was some form of radiation sickness, but I don't really know what/if it's accurate. However, nobody's rushing to bury his corpse, probably because they're barely surviving in a radioactive wasteland. And that pisses Jonnie off.
For the record: this story takes place a thousand years in the future. Due to the Psychlos taking over the planet, human beings have regressed back to a Stone Age hunter-gatherer society, wearing furs and using stone tools. So... well, there are a lot of baffling choices by these primitive people because we don't know why they ended up where they are, because their distant ancestors really should have at least known about things like radioactivity.
And recognized it.
And known to get the hell away.
Jonnie had gotten up in the dawn dark, determined to choke down his grief and go about his correct business.
I'm going to warn you ahead of time: Hubbard is not good at writing emotions. At all. Jonnie comes across as less emotional than Data.
He had yelled up Windsplitter, the fastest of his several horses,
Um, if you have domesticated horses to the point where they can be considered "yours," then... they require quite a few resources. Keeping an animal in one place in a way that is convenient to you basically means you have to compensate them for what they LOSE (like easy food or shelter from predtors), and I don't think Jonnie can do that.
put a cowhide rope on his nose,
... so, these people have not retained knowledge of a harness and how that works?
with a lot of hard riding and herding pushed five wild cattle back up to the mountain meadow.
... and they haven't domesticated cows?!
Okay, there is NO reason these people have not tamed and kept the cattle around for themselves in the last thousand years. That is just ridiculous. Cattle have been kept by humans since the Neolithic period.
... and in case you've forgotten, this story takes place a thousand years AFTER the present day. Meaning the ancestors of Jonnie and the other human characters... just kind of GAVE UP on something they already had, which was done in the first place so primitive stone-age people could have easy access to meat and hides.
Yeah, for a book that is "pure" science fiction, Hubbard obviously knew jack-shit about actual societal evolution. He seems to have gotten all his knowledge of primitive human civilization from 1,000,000 Years BC.
So he kills the FIVE cattle... and I don't know how he plans to get them back to the village, because I'm pretty darn skippy his horse can't carry them. Then he orders his Aunt Ellen to start cooking meat pronto, because Man With Penis demands it be so.
Aunt Ellen hadn't cared for the orders. She had broken her sharpest rock, she said, and couldn't skin and cut the meat, and certain men hadn't dragged in any firewood lately.
Which are pretty reasonable reasons not to do that, especially if Jonnie (which is what I assume "certain men" means) hasn't done something essential to the cooking of FIVE CATTLE. Apparently he expects her to skin, gut and de-bone FIVE COWS singlehanded, bring back enough firewood to cook them (amount: a lot) and spend her entire day doing nothing but cooking meat. All for a guy she clearly didn't like very much, or she'd be more grief-stricken.
But nobody gets to defy the will of Jonnie GoodboyGoodboyFetchTheStick Tyler! So he... stares at her.
Not kidding. That's at least two Chars.
Jonnie Goodboy had stood very tall and looked at her. Among people who were average height, Jonnie Goodboy stood half a head taller, a muscular six feet shining with the bronzed health of his twenty years. He had just stood there, wind tangling his corn-yellow hair and beard, looking at her with his ice-blue eyes.
- And then he farted.
- This is the second mention of Jonnie's hair being "corn yellow."
- Pay attention to that mention of health. It's later established that these people are slowly dying out because of radiation poisoning and mutations... but God forbid Hubbard's Ubermensch not be the picture of Aryan physical perfection! Heil Hubbard!
- And this was the point when I knew I was going to hate Jonnie.
- I think this moment is to establish that he's charismatic or impressive or awe-inspiring, so great he just has to LOOK at people and they shrivel up.
- But all I see is someone bullying an old lady into doing a ridiculous amount of work by herself.
- And yes, that's what happens. She has to go get wood single-handed, use inferior tools to work, and spend all day cooking for a bunch of people JUST BECAUSE JONNIE SAYS SO.
- This is going to hurt.
The last big funeral he had seen was when he was about five years old, when Smith the mayor had died.
... so these people no longer use metal tools, no longer have domesticated animals, and live in a radioactive wasteland wearing rough skins. Yet the title of "mayor" still exists, even though the social structures that the title relies on are gone.
There had been songs and preaching and a feast and it had ended with a dance by moonlight.
Apparently they hated him, because... well, unless you're Irish, typically people act sad at funerals. And even the Irish need lots of likker.
Apparently since then, they mostly just dump the bodies near the "waterpool" (which sounds like it would contaminate the water) and let the coyotes eat them. I'm not sure why, since they apparently do have religious practices in this place. And if you google "stone age burial," you'll find that actual prehistoric people did bury their dead, usually with great respect. They even left flowers.
But let's face it: the shittiness of this tribe exists for only one reason, and it's not to show how crappy things are now that mankind is almost extinct and has forgotten everything they've ever done. No, it's so Jonnie can look good by comparison.
Well, that wasn't the way you went about it, Jonnie told himself. Not with his father, anyway.
This might be more effective if we knew jack-shit about his father. Nope. All we know about his dad by the end of the book is... he was his dad, and he taught him how to do a few things.
The thump of his hard bare heel sent the horse down toward the courthouse.
- Hold on, hold on, hold on... what?
- Why would they call a courthouse that?
- IT'S BEEN A THOUSAND YEARS!
- And it's not like these are buildings being excavated and identified by professionals or anything. This is just how the local primitives know them.
- These people have lost their knowledge of how to domesticate animals... but they still know a particular building is called a courthouse?!
- And wait, why is he barefoot?
He passed by the decayed ruins of cabins on the outskirts. Every year they caved in further. For a long time anybody needing a building log hadn't cut any trees: they had just stripped handy existing structures.
- Wait... w... huh?
- So apparently there are no trees nearby, which makes it even more dickish that he was bullying his aunt into going to fetch it for something he demanded SHE do.
- Wait... so they have cabins already built...
- ... yet when they want to build a NEW cabin, they pull off pieces of OLD cabins and build a NEW cabin with the pieces of the OLD cabin...
- ... instead of just fixing up the old cabin and living in that.
- And if they're so concerned about their cabins rotting... why not construct a home out of other materials, like STONE? Or packed earth? Hell, if you're so primitive, why not live in CAVES?
- All right, I'm seeing why these people have no shoes, no metal, no dogs/cows/horses and they are living in a radioactive wasteland - they are fucking stupid.
- From now on, I dub them the Stupid Tribe. Char is their messiah.
Jonnie then hears a wolf howling, and reflects that wolves are attracted to the blood of the recent cattle kills. You know, the dead cattle.... where his elderly aunt is. The elderly aunt he forced to butcher and cook the meat. Dick.
He reflects that they have been in the area lately, and he hefted his kill-club from where it dangled by a thong into his palm. Ah, the kill-club. Only slightly more deadly than the concussion-club, and much more deadly than the mild-lump-on-the-head-club. As for the light-tap-on-the-head-club, fuhgeddaboutit.
Legend said that there had been a thousand in the valley, but Jonnie thought that was probably an exaggeration. There was plenty of food. The wide plains below the peaks were overrun with wild cattle, wild pigs, and bands of horses. The ranges above were alive with deer and goats. And even an unskilled hunter had no trouble getting food. There was plenty of water due to the melting snows and streams, and the little patches of vegetables would thrive if anybody planted and tended them.
... SO WHY DON'T YOU LIVE THERE?
Yes, Hubbard gives some bullshit explanation for it later on, but I somehow doubt that a single tribe over a THOUSAND YEARS is going to squat in the same place nonstop just because some dick says, "Oh no, there are monsters down there that won't come here. We've never seen them and we have no evidence they actually exist, but you should totally sit up here and watch your nads fall off. Trust me, because I'm old."
Yes, I know there is a reason the Psychlos don't come to this region, but these primitive yahoos don't know that.
For one thing, hunter-gatherer societies don't tend to stay in the same place indefinitely. That's agriculture, because when you've got a decent plot of land that has been plowed, you tend to use it repeatedly. Also, you have to stay in one place for months because the crops need to grow and mature. Which pretty clearly is not something these people do, since it's mentioned nobody plants or waters their gardens.
Hunter-gatherers? A pure hunter-gatherer society moves wherever the food is, which means that the Stupid Tribe should be down there in the plains hunting delicious food. Because if you hunt/gather most of your food and never move, you'll deplete it very quickly.
Also, groups of animals often move. You move with them. That's how it works.
For another... so apparently there are several kinds of animals nearby, and yet these dumbasses have not captured and/or domesticated them. WHY NOT?! Again, why would people give up on that? Why would people just STOP having goats and cows (both edible, both give milk), pigs, and horses?! Yes, most of the human race was killed, but I'm pretty sure the survivors wouldn't just spontaneously get amnesia about EVERYTHING learned throughout human history!
No, it wasn't food. It was something else. Animals reproduced, it seemed, but man didn't. At least not to any extent. The death rate and the birth rate were unbalanced, with death the winner. Even when children were born they sometimes had only one eye or one lung or one hand and had to be left out in the icy night. Monsters were unwanted things. All life was overpowered by a fear of monsters.
... okay, as you can probably guess, there is radiation in this area... that is actually getting WORSE after a thousand years, instead of having died away hundreds of years ago. Hence all the mutations and low birth rate.
But why the hell are animals unaffected?! Did Hubbard think that animals are magically unaffected by radiation, but humans are badly affected? Hey, Mr. "Pure" Science Fiction: other mammals are essentially made of the same stuff as us.
And I admit to not knowing much about radiation and its effects. But if the radiation is strong enough to cause massive mutations and sterility, I'd expect that the non-mutated people living there wouldn't be perfectly healthy, toned Ubermenschen. Health isn't binary.
And Jonnie knows that there's something wrong with the valley they live in, because... um... well, because Jonnie's intuitive leaps of anti-logic are what keep this book moving forward.
His father had looked at him wearily. "There were people in some other valleys, according to the legends. They're all gone, but there are still some of us."
I assume the idea is that the Psychlos can't come to this region because it's radioactive, and that's why people in non-lethal regions were picked off. But later we find out there are plenty of people living in non-radioactive regions, so... yeah, this is three or four Chars.
And really, you could live somewhere else. Living underground might keep you safe.
Jonnie had always been a bit of a trial. Too smart, the elders had said. Always stirring things up. Questions, questions. And did he believe what he was told? Even by older men who knew a lot better? No. Not Jonnie Goodboy Tyler.
Curse that Gary Stu! He's smart and inquisitive and such a rebel! He's so DIFFERENT! Nobody else has ever ASKED INCONVENIENT QUESTIONS... you know, besides every Stu/Sue ever. Especially Richard Cypher.
But his father had not brought any of this up. He had just said wearily, "There's no timber down there to build cabins."
Because the only structure you can ever live in is a cabin. And it's not like there's a massive empty city not too far off.
His father had knelt down, patient for once,
Indicating that he was an impatient dick doesn't make me like him any more. And I still hate Jonnie's whole "U GIV MAH DAD NICE FUNRL!" rampage.
Apparently the real excuse is that there are monsters down there... and the Stupid Tribe believes they literally cover the entire world except for this one shitty little corner of it.
Monsters, monsters. All his life Jonnie had been hearing about the monsters. He'd never seen one.
I think Hubbard is trying to make some kind of point about blindly believing stuff... which is somewhat undermined by the fact that he started a religion where you pay to have alien souls removed from you.
But he held his peace. The oldsters believed in monsters, so they believed in monsters.
... so the old people believe in monsters, because they believe in monsters. You may be onto something, Mr. No Shit!
But thinking of his father brought an unwelcome wetness to his eyes.
"I am a strong and muscular man, which means I never show emotions. My girlfriend cries for me!"
And then.... for some reason a giant mischief of foot-long rats come charging out TOWARDS the horse, instead of running the other way the way rats would.
You know something? This book is SO BAD that the only times it's scientifically accurate, it's entirely by accident. It's been speculated that rats may evolve into much bigger rats, and there are actually giant rats that have been popping up in recent years.
One thing. ONE THING in this "pure" science fiction book that has been done right, and I'm pretty sure it was accidental.
What you get for dreaming, Jonnie snapped to himself.
So dreaming caused rats to run TOWARDS a possible predator instead of the other way?