I have come across "Battlefield Earth," a bulky volume, in the library for years. I have thumbed through it but never read it simply because it was just too massive, not to mention the reputation of its author, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
When I heard that this book was going to be made into a film with Scientology heavy John Travolta, the book stirred my curiosity. Past works I have read by Hubbard include "Final Blackout" and "Fear."
Both pulp in composition and not great in length, they are straight stories with few or no elements of Hubbard's other career.
"Battlefield Earth" is different -- all 1,050 pages of it.
Earth Released While Hubbard Was In Seclusion
Hubbard came out the Golden Age of science fiction (1930s and 1940s). His contemporaries were Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp, among others. His work began appearing in pulp publications such as Thrilling Adventure Magazine and Amazing Stories. However, once he wrote the controversial "Dianetics" in 1950, he redirected his efforts into his newfound movement.
When "Battlefield Earth" debuted in 1982, Hubbard had not been seen in public for years. Some in the industry wondered if he was even alive. Ongoing conflicts with the U.S. government against the Church of Scientology drove him into seclusion. So it was a mild surprise when Hubbard came out with such an extensive piece of work.
When "Battlefield Earth" was released in 1982, "Star Wars" had made its impact felt with two films, "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back," and "Star Trek" was establishing its movie franchise.
Hubbard states in the introduction that the book is "pure science fiction" and "not in the old tradition." With this in mind, I was intrigued to see what was beyond the author's introduction.
What was in this sci-fi extravaganza?
Human Slaves, Aliens Conquer
The first chapters are somewhat disappointing. The main character is named "Jonnie Goodboy Tyler." I was expecting more of a strong one-word title than a cliched Golden Age surname. Nonetheless, the storyline appears to flow well.
Jonnie Goodboy Tyler lives on Earth in the year 3000. A thousand years earlier, a race called the Psychlos took over the planet and made slaves of the humans. Psychlos are giants, 9 feet tall and ruthless. They need to wear masks, as the air is too harsh for their respiratory systems.
Humans live in isolated pockets throughout the world with no contact among each other.
Jonnie decides to venture out in search of a better existence for his tribe. The elders of the local council think he is foolish and give him no endorsement, so he heads out alone.
Later, Jonnie is captured by a Psychlo named Terl. Terl is in charge of Psychlo Security and detests the thought of being stuck on Earth. He tries to think of ideas that will get him off the planet. He comes up with a plan to take Tyler and develop a "human animal" workforce which would help relieve the Psychlo labor in the mines.
Tyler is kept in a cage like an animal. While he can barely communicate with the Psychlos, Terl slowly begins to train him to read and speak Psychlo, for Terl's own benefit.
Tyler catches on fast. He learns about his enemy. His intelligence also grows. In the process, Terl and Tyler develop a respectable hate/hate relationship. Slowly Tyler conjures up a plan to band together with other humans and take the Earth back from the Psychlos. Eventually Tyler makes his move, fights the Psychlos and drives them out.
"Battlefield Earth" is almost two books in one. After many pages of battles and tactics (similar to "Final Blackout," but in more detail) and eventually forcing Psychlos to retreat, the story turns to human infighting and negotiations with other aliens.
The book is a good read. I approached this book with the intent of evaluating Hubbard as a science fiction author and not as the founder of Scientology. However, the book's excessive length and geographical character cliches takes some dedication to finish. Hubbard has other shorter works that carry just as well.
The book shows little influence of Hubbard's Scientology beliefs. For readers wary of his controversial influences, there is little to be concerned with.
Instead, for those curious about Hubbard's science fiction works, I would suggest his book "Fear." It is a much faster read and dramatically shorter in length. If you can check your local library, search for the audio book read by the late actor Roddy McDowall. I would also suggest looking for the audio book version of "Battlefield" on the same library trip, or just pass on the book.
As for "Battlefield Earth," there is nothing earth-shattering here, and nothing that sci-fi fans have not seen or imagined before. Its impact may have been different if had come out in 1950.