on 26 March 2006
Any book in which the blonde, blue-eyed, physically perfect hero never does anything wrong at any point, ever, needs to be regarded with some suspicion. When the book is a bloated 1000-pager from the pen of compulsive liar turned cult-leader-to-the-stars, L. Ron Hubbard, this is doubly so.
The premise itself is not that bad, in a fairly hackneyed way. A thousand or so years in the future, Earth has been colonised, and humanity largely wiped-out, by an invading alien race known called the Psychlos, who are now in residence, strip-mining the planet. One of the surviving humans, the aforementioned vision of Aryan perfection, Jonny Goodboy Tyler, gets captured by a Psychlo by the name of Terl, who has a plan to use humans as slaves in a little get-rich-quick-scheme that he has devised. Caveman Jonny then proceeds to outsmart Terl, and lead the surviving humans in a rebellion.
With 1,000 pages to fill, Hubbard takes his own sweet time in telling his relatively simple story, which he acheives to a large degree by telling the same point over and over again.
The human characters are uniformly one-dimensional and uninteresting. All the good humans are defined by their undying loyalty towards and love of Tyler, and the human villian, "Brown Limper" Stafford, by his hatred of Tyler (Limper, incidentally is handicapped - nice subtext there, L.Ron; physical perfection = spritual perfection, physical imperfection = thoroughgoing evil person).
The Psychlos themselves are slightly more interesting, particularly Terl and the renegade, Ker, but only just, and for a supposed super-genius security expert, Terl is outsmarted with astonishing ease by Tyler.
The plot itself stretches credibility to a ridiculous degree, with legions of cavemen being trained to fly alien spaceships in a few months, thousand-year-old guns and ammunition working just fine after they've been cleaned up a bit, and Tyler discovering the history of his planet by reading thousand-year-old books which have, for reasons that are never explained, somehow not rotted away into compost. This is not to mention the scene where Tyler kills a grizzly bear by hitting with a stick (though, in fairness, this is slightly more feasible than a number of things that Hubbard claimed to have done himself during the course of his life).
A few scenes are quite well-written, such as the bit where Tyler must defuse a flying bomb whilst bleeding from a head-wound, but these are drowned in the pages and pages of repetitive, simplistic, cliche-ridden prose.
And obviously, by the time this book was written, Hubbard's religion/device-for-extracting-money-from-the-gullible, Scientology, was well underway, and is a clear influence on a number of themes, most prominently in the Psychlos themselves. (SPOILER FOLLOWS). Towards the end of the book, it is revealed that the Psychlos are so evil because their heads have been messed with by a sect called "catrists," who planted little devices in their heads to make them cruel and sadistic. Psychlo-catrists = psychiatrists, geddit?
The book is not difficult to read, because Hubbard's writing style is very simple, but it is not enjoyable either. His descriptive text is leaden, his dialogue tedious, and his characterisation almost complerely nonexistent. Nor is it very exciting, because the sheer volume of padding which has been stuck in means that the plot lurches forward in short spurts before grinding to a halt for large periods.
In the hands of someone who was actually capable of writing well, this could have been a fair, if not particularly groundbreaking, sci-fi novel. As it is, the only conclusion I can draw is that Hubbard should have stuck to fleecing the emotionally vulnerable, something which he was clearly more talented at than being an author.
on 12 May 2008
If you're going to write an old-school pulp-style slam-bang sci-fi novel that deliberately sets out to ignore the increasing sophistication, psychological realism and attention to literary style that has characterised the genre since the 1960s, then the least you can do is pay attention to scientific accuracy. In this novel, the late L. Ron Hubbard couldn't even be bothered to do that. Among the many implausibilities of this novel is the idea that humans can breathe the Psychlos' atmosphere if they wear a breath mask containing a filter full of salt. Hubbard appears not to have noticed that since human blood is already full of salt, we wouldn't need a breath mask; our blood would do the job for us. In the meantime, the plot of the book is almost insultingly stupid. A caveman-like supposedly heroic human has to defeat the evil baddie aliens, but it's implausible that he could possibly acquire the skills to do so, so Hubbard contrives a bizarre plot in which one alien fiddles with our hero's brain in order to enable him to learn things quicker. But if that's the case, how come the hero survives the process with his allegiances intact? How does the process not cause massive brain damage? For that matter, what sort of brilliant evil alien (who have supposedly been ruling Earth for 1000 years) deliberately makes his own slaves more intelligent? And if the Psychlos are as corrupt and screwed-up as Hubbard's plot requires them to be, how come they all this cool learning technology hasn't made them superior? Doesn't it work? And if it does work, how come it works on humans too? Oh, but never mind, it's only fiction...
A genre that has produced such stirring, strange and beautiful things as the best work of Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, Ursula LeGuin and William Gibson should not be judged by the drivel of one of its more cynical and less gifted exponents. SF at its best is some of the finest writing around. This, however, is dreck.
'Battlefield Earth', or at any rate the first half of it, also gave rise to a movie which is a strong contender for Worst Film Ever. The blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of John Travolta, whose vanity project it was in the first place. The blame for the witless and inane novel that inspired it belongs to entirely to Lafayette Ron Hubbard - the pulp writer who created a pulp religion.
on 17 April 2000
Its hard to believe but I actually read this dreck almost 10 years ago when it was leant to me with the advice that this was a great book. At 1,000+ pages, I sure hoped so! ... Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler is the hero, and the evil aliens led by Terl are the bad guys. It reads like really bad 1930's serial monster stories must have. If you've ever read any of Heinleins very early stuff, taken from serials in magazines and meant for 13 year old boys, thats what this is like. It was so bad the only reason a film is being made of this is beacuase John Travolta is part of the Scientology Cult and forced the project through. I don't recall there being any Scientology message in the book, maybe I didn't recognize it, just unrelenting bad writing, cardboard characters and a plot so shallow it belongs in a pet cemetary. I'm not just doing this for fun, honestly, RUN, don't walk away from this book. I don't care if you want to join Scientology, or the Moonies or the Roman Catholic Church, but this book is just awful, and the film will surely be terrible as well.
on 28 February 2012
I have a very small list of books that I hope never to have to read again. This, unfortunatly, makes the list. Here's a basic run-through.
Charecters - 1/10. You are told what they do, but never why. Their motivations are barly discussed, yet alone displayed. Female charecters are not portrayed well, to say the least. The hero is your typical generic white guy whose abilities are only limited by the limits of the 'plot'
Scientific accuracy - 1/10. Too many examples to list. Many are glaringly obvious. One example. The aliens breath a gas that apparently explodes as soon as it comes into contact with radiation. I'm assuming that the author is unaware of basic facts about radiation (taught to children in most schools). These aliens can walk around on Earth despite the constant background radiation from the earth, from the air, from various nuclear weapons deployed in the book...
Conciseness - 1/10. Too long. Way too long. Too much stuff rammed into a book that extends for page after page of drivel.
There is a literary concept known as 'willing suspension of disbelief'. This book drags you out of it, and you thank it for doing so. This is not sci-fi. Sci-fi is charecterised by its prose style, its tendancy to comment on 'big questions' and to entertain deep concepts. So-called 'hard' sci-fi (which this book claims to be) tends to be as accurate to reality as the plot allows.
This book is not hard sci-fi. This book is not really soft sci-fi. This book is close to being an arguement for censorship of bad books.
If you want proper sci-fi, check out the vast range of sci-fi of all kinds and 'hardness' available (I recommend Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark or Philip K Dick). The allusions to Scientology are not immediatly obvious, but if you look closely, this book is riddled with allusions to Scientology. Avoid at all costs.
on 17 March 2015
The first part of the book (about 40%) is quite good of its type, though some of the characters seem unreal. For example, one can tolerate the implausible, stereotyped Scots to a certain extent, though the often seem fairly set in the Harry Lauder music hall mould. The book should end at the piint where the aliens are first beaten, but no, the implausible characters, especially Brown Limper, gain power in such an improbable scenario that one is left wondering if Hubbard handed the writing responsibilities over to a class of primary school pupils!
The book is far toi long and drawn out - just about worth a read but if you gave something better, give up after the Psyclos are first beaten.