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.