Iqn Qirtaiba #16, July 1996

Original is at

Fiction Archives: Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard

There's one thing worse than an over-hyped author, and that's a self-over-hyped author. The late L Ron Hubbard falls into the latter class, thanks to the efforts of the Scientology industry to promote his fiction alongside his non-fiction works. Hubbard (who once declared that the best way to get rich would be to start your own religion, and who later proceeded to do exactly that) continues to attract devotion and hatred in about equal measures. Nevertheless, his services to science fiction should not be underrated. As one of the pioneers of the genre during the Golden Age he influenced many of SF's greatest authors, and his Writers of the Future competition continues to encourage new authors today.

After many years devoted to Scientology and Dianetics, Hubbard's fiction renaissance arrived with his 1982 epic, Battlefield Earth. It is a sprawling tale that begins on Earth in the year 3000, after a millenium of occupation by the alien Psychlos and their Intergalactic Mining Company. The Psychlos (who have green blood, and names like "Zzt", "Terl" and "Snit") have exterminated almost the entire population of the planet with poison gas, and are plundering its mineral wealth. Our hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, lives in a mountain village which has regressed to barbarism, and whose only knowledge of the invaders lies in legends of "monsters" in the plains. With the villagers ailing from an unknown cause, Jonnie sets out on horseback to explore such wild unknowns as the ruined city of Denver.

Jonnie sat his horse in the middle of what must have been the main path of the "great village." He frowned, straining to comprehend the building of such a place. Many men? But how could they reach so high?

Jonnie is soon captured by a megalomanical Psychlo, who trains him in Psychlo language and technology, to enable him to mine gold from an area dangerous to Psychlos. To assist in the mining project a tribe of Scots is recruited from the Scottish highlands. Jonnie and the Scots waste no time in plotting the overthrow of the planet's conquerors.

"If we miss," Robert the Fox repeatedly told them, "and slip up on the tiniest detail, those plains out there will once again be crawling with trans-shipped Psychlo tanks and the sky studded with battle planes. The home planet of the Psychlos would retaliate with ferocity. We would have no course open save to withdraw into the old military base and probably perish of asphyxiation when they resort to gas.

After an initial victory, the rejuvenated human race still have to overcome treachery from within, continued Psychlo plotting, and visitors from several other aggressive alien civilisations. In the course of these dramas Battlefield Earth moves from war story to political thriller to sci-fi to comedy and back again several times.

The spacecraft Aknar II rode in orbit four hundred twenty-one miles above the planet Earth.

The small gray man sat in a small gray office in the ship. He was looking at small gray instruments.

He was only partly finished with a critical analysis and he was not even vaguely satisfied with it.

A bottle of pills sat on his desk, pills for indigestion.

To call Hubbard's writing style pulpy is an understatement. Suffice to say that his writing contains millions of examples of hyperbole, a list of cliches as long as your arm, and exclamation marks aplenty! After his death, the publishers of his "dekology" Mission Earth tried to pass off the same writing style as satire, but this is a unlikely excuse. Hubbard simply never learned - or never wanted - to write other than low-brow "boys' own" adventure fiction, and his legacy is best appreciated once this fact is understood.

Battlefield Earth is a very entertaining read.

Six needle-like craft were coming down like arrows.

Clearly, using Psychlo, Jonnie said, "Six new hornets from above!" That would warn Stormalong.

There was Glencannon. Streaking along at about one hundred thousand feet, flat-out, heading for the minesite. Where was his escort? He should have an escort. No sign of them!

Four needles were shooting along behind Glencannon. Occasionally a long-range flash of fire laced out from them.

There went Stormalong!

Although Battlefield Earth is an enjoyable novel, it could not be called an inventive one. The situations contrived by Hubbard are standard fare of war and espionage novels - including many of Hubbard's own non-science fiction works. The technology of the novel is not particularly exciting either, apart from a variation on the standard force-field, and an interesting (if dubious) propulsion system for aeroplanes. There are even some short-sighted lapses in predicting Earth's own near-future technology; for instance, before Earth fell to the Psychlos, its public libraries were still using card catalogues.

Another fault lies in the latter third of the book, which introduces too many new aliens to whom the first two thirds of the book had given us no introduction. This suggests bad planning by Hubbard, who may have been too intent on writing "the biggest sf novel ever in terms of length" (as he boasts in the Introduction) to worry about narrative flow. One alien invasion should have been enough for this particular tale.

Nonetheless Battlefield Earth is a good book for those who like an old-fashioned invasion story, with all the twists, turns and subterfuge of a spy novel. As long as you don't look for deeper meanings or demand elegance of expression, you'll keep turning the pages and come away from Battlefield Earth with a smile on your face.

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