Sunday, June 15, 2014

A great "breaking out of hypnosis" scene

I'm most of the way through Authority, the second book in Jeff VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy (and am incidentally eating my heart out because the final book won't be published until September). I've been dying to blog about it here, although it's hard to find a way around the spoilers. But when I reached the two scenes I'm about to quote below, I knew I had to share them with you, spoilers or not. The descriptions are just too rich and hot and dirty to keep to myself.

Fortunately, I can set them up for you without giving away too much of the surrounding plot; and to anyone who knows much about hypnosis, it's obvious almost from the first that the protagonist is being unwittingly subjected to it. The question for me, not having finished the book yet, is whether he's really free after this scene, or whether he only thinks he's free. A little later, someone reassures him that they couldn't implant false memories in him because "That kind of thing would make you such an expensive model that no one here could afford you" - which is a very provocative statement, in my opinion (And just for the record, I absolutely do not trust the person who told him this). Also, considering how much more important hypnosis is in Authority than in Annihilation, I expect it to be a crucial plot point in the final book. Which, again, I'm biting my nails while waiting for.

But on to the quotes. Here's a setup with as few spoilers as I can manage. If a few is too many for you, bail out while you have a chance - but IMO this is a safe enough read.

The protagonist, ironically nicknamed "Control," is an operative for the organization that manages the Southern Reach. He only ever talks to his handler via cell phone, and his handler's voice is masked so that Control doesn't even know whether he's talking to a man or a woman. He just calls that person the Voice. Well, as I implied, the Voice has been manipulating Control with hypnosis; but Control stumbled across a list of hypnotic triggers someone else had written, and he realized the Voice was using those triggers on him. Below is his retaliation. First I'll give you the scene where he zaps the Voice. Then I'll give you the flashback that shows what went on behind the scenes.

First thing Saturday morning, Control had called the Voice, from his house. He had placed an electronic bullhorn rigged with a timer on one side of his desk, set the timer. He had placed a neon orange sheet of paper with his reminders on it to the right, along with a pen. He drank a shot of whiskey. He smashed his fists down on the desk, once, twice, three times. He took a deep breath. Then he made the call, putting the Voice on speakerphone....

"Is your house in order?" the Voice asked....

Deep breath. Then, preempting anything the Voice might say, Control launched into a shouted string of obscenities of the most vile kind, contorting his throat, hurting it. After a surprised pause, the Voice shouted  "Enough!" then muttered something long and quivery and curling. Control lost the thread. The bullhorn went off. Control shook himself out of it, read the words on the orange sheet of paper. Checked off the first line. Launched again into a string of obscenities. "Enough!" Again, persistent, stubborn, the Voice muttered something, this time moist and short and darting. Control floated and forgot. The bullhorn went off. Control saw the words on the orange sheet of paper. Checked off the second line. Obscenities. Mutters. Floating. Bullhorn ripping through. Control saw the words on the orange sheet of paper. Check mark. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat. Fifth time. Sixth time. The seventh time the script changed. He fed back to the Voice all the muttering, glottal moist soft words he'd gleaned from the director's cheat sheet. Heard the wet gasp and shriek of hitting the target, then an awkward lunge of words toward him, but feeble, disconnected, unintelligible.

That had left a scar. He doubted his incantation had had the full effect, but the point was that the Voice knew and had had a very unpleasant experience.

The bullhorn went off. Control saw the words on the orange sheet of paper. He was done. The Voice was done. They'd have to get another handler, one not quite so manipulative.

"Here's a joke for you," Control said. "What's the difference between a magician and a spy?" Then he hung up.

He had reviewed the surveillance of his Wednesday and Thursday conversations with the Voice on Friday night after a vigorous jog. He'd been suspicious, hadn't trusted the way he seemed to fade in and out during those conversations, or how the Voice had infiltrated his thoughts. With [his cat] on his lap, and the feed piped in from his phone to the television, Control had seen the Voice execute hypnotic commands, seen himself become unfocused, head floating a bit on his neck, eyelids fluttering, while the Voice, never dropping the metallic, guttural disguise, gave him orders and suggestions....

The Voice, while Control languished under hypnosis, had a sharpness and focus not as present otherwise, and a kind of casual perversity, telling Control s/he wanted a joke to end their next phone call, "one with a punch line." As far as he could tell, he also had been serving as a living tape recorder for the Voice. The Voice had pulled out of Control verbatim conversations, which explained why he had been so late getting home Wednesday even though the conversation had seemed short....

So he'd written on the neon orange sheet that he could not possibly miss:

_____Check this line and scream obscenities. Move down one line.
_____Check this line and scream obscenities. Move down one line.

Rinse, repeat, brought out of it by the bullhorn, pulled back into it. Until, finally, he reached the end: "Check this line and repeat these phrases" -- all of the phrases he'd found in the director's desk. Shout them, actually.

So tell me now, dear readers: wasn't that worth a bit of spoilage? 


Anonymous said...

That was awesome. Thank you for posting!

thrall said...

You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. :-)