Operation Clambake

San Francisco Chronicle
August 8, 1983 (p. 37)

L. Ron Hubbard In Print Again

Battlefield Earth By L.Ron Hubbard
St. Martin's, 819 pages; $24

Reviewed by Lauren Dunlop

Currently emerging on a few national best seller lists, "Battlefield Earth" is something of a phenomenon.

Author L.Ron Hubbard, says the flyleaf, was one of the most prolific and widely read authors of the "Golden Age of Science Fiction," along with Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others.

Yet despite the claim that he has published 101 novels, 32 novelettes and 138 short stories, Hubbard is perhaps best known as the creator od Scientology.

Scientology is never mentioned by name in this book, although Hubbard's introduction alludes to "my serious subjects." Going on at some length about being a "top-liner professional," Hubbard adds condescending praise for lesser writers. The style of the introduction is pedantic and slightly illiterate. The story itself reads only somewhat better.

The subtitle reads, "A Saga of the Year 3000." At that time on Earth there remains a smattering of humans, reduced to primitive excile in the mountains. From a tiny village in the Rockies, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler sets out to verify the legends of his people's origin and to see whether there really are monsters down on the plain.

As Johnnie soon finds out, the monsters are indeed there. They are the alien race called Psychlos who conquered Earth and have for centuries since been mining it for the Intergalactic Mining Company. In episode after daring episode, Jonnie almost singlehandedly rids Earth of its cruel conqueros. But are the Psychlos really gone? We've got hundreds of pages left in which to find out.

Further complicants: The new human government goes bad, and, worse, the removal of the Psychlos spells an invitation to other warlike aliens to stake their own claims. The crowning blow is discovering that Earth is mortgaged down to its molten core. Even if Jonnie can repel these other races, he will then be served notice of payment due. If he cannot pay, Galactic Bank will foreclose, and Earth will simply be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Tireless, scrupulously ethical, tall, blond and handsome, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler will save the day for Earth, overwhelming odds notwithstanding. It is temping to compare Jonnie to Scientology's promised end product, the person who has regained the divinity lost in his humanity, or gone "Clear."

Perhaps predictably, this novel isn't exactly good art. It is something of a page-turner, though flawed by plot inconsistencies, silliness, sexism, undeveloped characters and clumsy handling.

Less predictably, "Battlefield Earth" is not a tract for Scientology. Lest anyone mistake the novel for "a press relations job for my other serious works," Hubbard's introduction spells out exactly what this novel is. First, he says, it has been an amusement to fill the author's time. It is the longest science fiction novel ever written, including elements of detective, spy, western, love, adventure and air war stories. And it is "pure science fiction," Hubbard is proud to claim.

The folly of materialism is a prevalent theme of the novel. Hubbard swipes at government and government regulation. Banking and business, those vanguards of human greed, are also disparaged. In this 16-universe galaxy, money is everything, and of course profit is always the bottom line.

It's an intriguing theme, considering Hubbard's other endeavors. Pending lawsuits by ex-Scientologists claim that the group bilked individuals of as much as $40,000; its total assets have been estimated at close to $1 billion. Hubbard's professional writing in the 30's and 40's, the introduction explains, was "to finance more serious researches." For what, one wonders, have Hubbard's Scientology monies gone?

El Cerrito critic Lauren Dunlap writes for Update, a Danish journal of religious movements.