On a whim I picked up Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. I read his introduction, and he stated that he wrote the book purely for the fun of it. I was in the mood for an epic book. If you have seen it in the bookstores, it is huge. I am not sure of the word count, but it must be massive. For comparison, the Count of Monte Cristo, a truly long book, has 24,000 locations in the Kindle, Battlefield Earth has 30,409.
This is where I have to say it again: Why, just why, does Amazon not give us a way to obtain the word count of a book. Many people don’t care to know. I do. I want to know how “large” a book is, and I don’t want to have to use mathematics to figure it out. Amazon, give me an app that returns the word count.
Done with my rant about Amazon, and on with Hubbard. He is actually a pretty good writer. His prose flows well, his dialog makes sense and does not seem stilted. He does a fairly good job developing characters, and he sure has a good imagination. When I read the first chapter I thought I might enjoy a science fiction epic that I could immerse myself in.
The story plays around the year 3000 on earth, after nuclear and environmental catastrophes have virtually made the world unlivable. Radiation has polluted much of the earth and illnesses and sterility has ravaged the human race. There are very few pockets of humans left alive. Those that are alive have degenerated back to stone age status. Buildings, roads, machines, glass, metal, all has been lost.
Super advanced aliens, named the Psychlos, have settled on earth to mine for metals. The ore is shipped back to their home planet via teleportation equipment. There are about 3000 alien miners on earth, and they don’t even know about the humans. When they encounter them the think of them as animals.
Likewise, the humans think of the aliens as monsters. So far, so good. There is potential for a good story. So what’s wrong?
The Psychlos are huge in comparison to humans. Hubbard does not do a good job describing them. They are humanoid, with humanlike faces, but boneridges for eyelids and lips. They are hairy and have paws and talons. When they walk, the earth shakes. Ok, I can picture a large bearlike creature like a Wookie in Star Wars. That might make sense. Of course, the John Travolta movie has since destroyed any Psychlo imagination by portraying human body aliens, just larger, and very hairy.
Hubbard makes the classic mistake that I keep ranting about with aliens: They are not credible. The aliens think like humans, talk like humans, intrigue like humans, interact with each other in their society like humans – they are humans. So what’s the point of making them aliens? It just does not make any sense at all.
I got to about 12% of the book when I decided I lost all interest in the story and gave up. It had some intriguing concepts, but it was basically massive pulp.
I wondered just how Hubbard got three books on the Random House Modern Library Reader’s Choice of one of the lists of the greatest novels in the English language:
It just does not make sense. Battlefield Earth is not in a class with Atlas Shrugged, 1984 and Ulysses. Definitely not.
I checked Wikipedia about Hubbard:
Hubbard is the Guinness World Record holder for the most published author, with 1,084 works, most translated book (70 languages for The Way to Happiness) and most audiobooks (185 as of April 2009). According to Galaxy Press, Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth has sold over 6 million copies and Mission Earth a further 7 million, with each of its ten volumes becoming New York Times bestsellers on their release. However, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1990 that Hubbard’s followers had been buying large numbers of the books and re-issuing them to stores to boost sales. Opinions are divided about his literary legacy. Scientologists have written of their desire to “make Ron the most acclaimed and widely known author of all time”. The sociologist William Sims Bainbridge writes that even at his peak in the late 1930s Hubbard was regarded by readers of Astounding Science Fiction as merely “a passable, familiar author but not one of the best”, while by the late 1970s “the [science fiction] subculture wishes it could forget him” and fans gave him a worse rating than any other of the “Golden Age” writers.
This looks like the guy started his own religion and then asked his followers buy his books by the millions.
Well, I just bought one of them myself.
My last one.