L Ron Hubbard - Battlefield Earth

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
Original review by Herb:

I was excited when I first heard that John Travolta was staring in a film adaptation of the L. Ron Hubbard classic. Then I saw the film. What were those people thinking of? Doesn't Travolta have handlers to protect him from career disasters like that one? The worst part is that the flat as stale beer viewing experience might discourage people from reading the book.

Battlefield Earth is a big, thick work of pulp fiction - there's that Travolta again - from the golden era of science fiction writing. Hubbard fed rolls of butcher paper into his typewriter and let the words fly for a penny each. Characters are painted with a broad brush. The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. We're never confused as to who is who. The peril is clear and the objective just. Obstacles are seemingly insurmountable; Traps inescapable; Danger unavoidable; And heroism super-human.

Oddly, in the year 3000, 1000 year old machines function perfectly, people are capable of 100% agreement and invaders who stole the planet from professional armies in nine minutes are defeated by inexperienced cavemen.
If you read the book looking for scientific accuracy, you will be disappointed. If you're looking for a sprawling yarn that will keep you engrossed for hours on end, pick up Battlefield Earth.
The book is a guilty pleasure and a fun read. The film was a huge disappointment. A Different director and producer and If they had stuck with the book a bit more closely , The resulting film would have been a far better then it turned out. Actually in miniseries format would have been a better format.
I'm so very glad to find that there are people with taste who agree with me on this. I'd always felt I was showing my vulnerability to brainwashing by thinking this was a true rollercoaster of a book which overcame objections to its implausibility by backing it with the utterly impossible. And yet, it at no time becomes the dreaded SF "romp", but keeps our sympathy for the protagonist throughout, even flirting with poignancy at the very end. An odd little 3000 pages, which you'll not learn one single thing from reading but might just make you feel slightly better for an hour afterwards
Travolta did the film because he is a Scientologist. He probably did have handlers tell him not to do it. But the opportunity for one of the most powerful Scientologists in Hollywood to star in a film adaptation of the most recognizable Scientologist piece of fiction? He wouldn't pass that up.
The author's Scientology connection biased me against this book, but I must admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected to.

From the comments above, I won't be watching the film.
I wonder if the movie was funded by the Church of Scientology?
I ignored Hubbard in my first read-through of the classics--the vintage-era authors, back in the 1970s. But it's very hard to ignore him forever, and I eventually decided to read a number of his books. To me, Battlefield Earth seemed like slightly better-than-average pulp. The Mission Earth books though seemed like..I guess junk to me; I think I quit in the middle of the third one. Worst of all is the movie--but I don't think we can lay all that much of the blame on L. Ron...there were a lot of terrible decisions made there, in the production of the film. :)
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I wonder if the movie was funded by the Church of Scientology?

Interesting question. If it had been a hit at the very least it would good publicity and advertising for the church .
Many years ago I started to read Battlefield Earth. I didn't finish it. But as I read it I started keeping a running synopsis / commentary on a long defunct, and much missed, forum. Prompted by the books popping up on another thread here I went poking about on Archive.org and discovered to my joy that the thread containing my commentary had been saved for the future.... I.E. now.

I cut and pasted the thread edited out other people's comments and corrected typos and done a wee bit of tweaking here and there for clarity, but this is what I though of it 12 years ago. The book is still in my bedside TBR pile. I may finish this project some day.

Palimpsest > Reviews > Book Reviews > L Ron Hubbard: Battlefield Earth

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9th Jan 2010, 23:42

Part 1


Battlefield Earth is a novel. It is a very long novel. It is a very bad novel. The first ten percent of it is very bad. The remaining ninety percent may be very bad too. I will find out if the remaining ninety percent is very bad by reading it. When I have read it I will know if the remaining ninety percent is bad. Then I will know if all of it is bad. Or not.


The sentences in Battlefield Earth are very short. Many of them say the same things over and over again. They repeat themselves. Just in case you didn't understand it the first time you are told things many times. Sometimes you are told the same things from a different point of view. The things you are told about are not different. Just the point of view is different.


The Chapters in Battlefield Earth are very short.


So are the 'Parts'.

Part 2

I can't keep this up... Honest to God it's like reading an SF epic written by the committee who write Janet and John books. "See Spot fight aliens. Fight, Spot, fight!".

So far I'm only about 100 pages into this (so far?) so I am going to write this as I read it - I'm not sure I could stomach doing the whole thing in one go. I'll come back to this from time to time as I plod my way through the remaining 900 pages. (oh Gods...!).

(L Ron Hubbard, for those of you lucky people who don't know, is the one and only begetter of the 'science' of Dianetics, The Church of Scientology and all its works. But before Hubbard went into the self-help and DIY religion business (and becoming extremely rich in the process - he left a $600 million estate) he also - if his incredibly self-serving introduction to Battlefield Earth is to be believed - practically invented Modern SF single-handed and was thus, he argues, in no small part responsible for man landing on the Moon in 1969. So it goes.

Battlefield Earth is a novel he wrote after saving the world.

In the first paragraph of his introduction he claims this to be a work of pure science fiction. [His italics.] So far that's the best joke in the book.


The story so far (with a wee bit of cut and paste from Wikipedia to get me going):

Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is a member of a tiny tribe living in a decaying village in the mountains. Each year things get worse and there are fewer and fewer people. Jonnie (the six foot tall, blond, blue-eyed hero of our story - down girls!) depressed over the death and disease affecting his tribe, leaves his village to explore the lowlands and to disprove the superstitions, long held by his people, involving ancient gods and monsters. His girlfriend Chrissie, not convinced that he will return, promises to wait a year before setting out to find him.

After springing onto his horse with a single bound several times to prove to the reader how heroic he is, and killing wolves with a single well-thrown rock, Jonnie soon discovers the ruins of "The Great Village" where legend says thousands of his people lived before the gods got wrathful and went smiting.

He wanders through the decayed city and discovers the strange noises he is hearing are echoes - how he lived in mountains for all his life without hearing an echo is a bit of a mystery but there you go. Soon he discovers a building that has been sealed but, within minutes, has broken in and discovered shelves full of rectangular things with lots of flat things inside covered in squiggly marks. What could they be? The second book (damn! I gave it away) he picks up turns out to be a children's illustrated alphabet. I mean. What are the chances eh? Dots are joined in Jonnie's head. He leaves the building and runs into the parallel story that has been alternating chapters with his.

The parallel story so far:

Terl is the disgruntled security chief of a craphole mining operation on a craphole planet, given to drinking 'saucepans of kerbango' (sic) and fulminating about the unfairness of life. Terl is a Psychlo, one of the incredibly stupid, cruel, and lumbering race which, it is very quickly obvious - even if you haven't read the blurb or seen the godawful movie version - are the wrathful gods and monsters now in charge of, and strip-mining clean, planet earth.

Terl has a plan to get himself off this backwater rock but lacks the 'leverage' to put it into operation. He tells himself he needs 'leverage' an awful lot. An awful awful lot. Really; a lot. Reading old reports from the now extinct subject race who surveyed the planet, the Chinklos, Terl plans on training 'Man Animals' to work the mines and make profit for the company and thus buy his way out. He gets enough 'leverage' to borrow a vehicle from the transport chief (who glories in the name of 'Zzt') and goes off to hunt for a 'Man animal' to train.

He instantly runs into Jonnie, captures him and, with the help of a handy dandy translating teaching device he happens to find lying around, teaches Jonnie the Psychlo language. He teaches Jonnie how to drive a Psychlo bulldozer. He gives a demonstration of his revolutionary new labour-saving concept to the other Psychlos:

Jonnie started [the bulldozer] up. He felt uneasy: a sixth sense was biting him like when you had a puma behind you that you hadn't seen. It wasn't Terl's threats. It was something else. He looked over the crowd.
"Raise the blade!" roared Terl through the horn.
Jonnie did.
"Lower the blade!"
Jonnie did.
"Roll it ahead!"
Jonnie did.
"Back it up!"
Jonnie did.
"Put it in a circle."
Jonnie did.
"Now build a mound of snow from all angles."
Jonnie started manoeuvring, handling the controls, taking light scrapes of snow, pushing them into a centre. He was doing better than just making a mound; he was building a squared-sided pile and levelling off its top. He worked rapidly, backing up pushing in more snow. The precise geometric mound took shape.

But Terl's demonstration is sabotaged by Zzt who has installed a remote control device and a bomb on the digger. Jonnie is almost killed and Terl is made a laughing stock. Terl confronts Zzt. They fight. Terl does not win.

Zzt motioned with the blaster barrel. "Why don't you just walk out of here and have a nice crap."
Leverage. Leverage, thought Terl. He was fresh out of it.

He left the garage. Even Jonnie refuses to do anything for Terl. (No leverage, see.) Terl has no leverage over a being half his size he has chained in a cage? Why Terl just doesn't threaten to blow one of his legs off never gets mentioned. "Do what I say Earth Skum (tm) or I'll blow your ****ing head off!" It would work on me - but then again I'm not the six foot blond hero of a book. (Dammit!)

Meanwhile, Chrissie is getting antsy:
She wrapped the bearskin more tightly around her and looked up at the wintry sky. When the constellation was in that same place in spring she would go. The wind was cutting keen as she pulled the bearskin even tighter. Jonnie had given her the bearskin and she fingered it. She would get busy and make some buckskin clothes. She would prepare packs. She would not let them eat the last two horses.
When the time came she would be all ready to go. And she would go.
A blast of wind from Highpeak chilled her, mocked her. Nevertheless, when the time came she would go.

Does Terl find some 'leverage' to make Jonnie do what he wants him to do? What could this leverage be? Is 'Zzt' Zzt's real name, or did he change it so he would get picked last at games? Is this the longest self-published book in the world? or does it just feel like it? All this questions and many more will be answered on the next Griping Instalment of Garbagefield Earth!


11th Jan 2010, 21:47

Terl, no longer able to cope with the galactic leverage shortage, decides to take matters into his own hands and make some. Using hidden cameras, a disguise, marked money, and feigning kerbango intoxication, he frames Zzt for theft. Zzt, faced with summary disintegration, caves in to Terl's requests for materiel.

Slicing and splicing taped interviews with slightly disgruntled employees, Terl builds a faked dossier pointing to possible mutiny in the ranks - the thing planetary boss, Numph, fears most. (I kid you not. He really is called Numph.) Frightened by this ploy, Numph happily hands Terl the powers he needs to suppress the mutiny if it should ever happen.

Terl, gloating in this sudden superabundance of leverage, takes Jonnie for a drive in his new tank. He has, he thinks, finally worked out a way of getting some leverage over his pet man animal. When he first encountered Jonnie, Jonnie was riding a horse. Terl suspects Jonnie has an 'emotional attachment' for his mount. He's thinking: 'find the horse, threaten to kill it and Jonnie will do whatever I want, mwahahahaha!'
Soon the odd couple are wandering the plain looking for Jonnie's horse when they come across a small herd of six cows. Terl decides that this is a good time to demonstrate his superior skill with a gun. He lobs a grenade over the cows' heads and stampedes the herdette towards the two of them. Then, with consummate markspsycloship, he blows all their legs off one by one as they are charging towards them.

This scene survives into the movie version but instead of shooting the fast moving legs off charging animals Terl is reduced to blowing a leg of one cow. And a plastic cow standing still at that.



To be fair to the movie (I can't believe I'm doing this) the shot after this one is of Terl shooting again and again - the implication being that he's blasting the other cows too but the initial leg flying off is so stupidly fake that the audience is just sitting there waiting for the cow to shout out: "It's only a flesh wound! Come back and fight you coward!"

Back to the book.

While Terl is shortening cows a Grizzly bear suddenly looms out the cave behind them and...

The Grizzly hit him in the back with an impact that sent out a shock wave.
The blast rifle, driven from Terl's paws soared into the air towards Jonnie. He caught it in his left hand.
But Jonnie wasn't thinking of the blast rifle any more than a club. And he had his own kill-club up and striking before the bear could aim a second blow at Terl. The kill-club caught the grizzly square on the brain pan.
The bear reared up and struck at the kill-club as it came down again. The thong snapped.
Jonnie grasped the rifle by the barrel. The grizzly came at him with gaping jaws. The rifle stock crashed into the bear's teeth.
Jonnie struck again at the brain pan.
With a dwindling roar the bear went down.
It stayed down, its limbs twitching in death.

What a guy!

Coming soon:
Uranium! and a trip to Scotland! (I peeked)


12th Jan 2010,

Terl takes a break from abusing Jonnie and hands him over to a Psychlo even stupider than he is caller Ker. Ker's job is to show Jonnie all the useful mining equipment and how to use it. Ker does this with aplomb and, just for good measure, and without realising it, provides Jonnie, piece by piece, with a Get Out Of Psychlo Hell Free kit.
He just happens to have a map of the world with all the Psychlo bases neatly marked on it in his back pocket as a piece of waste paper to draw a list on.
Just after instructing Jonnie in the use of a sooper-dooper, cut-through-anything, then seamlessly glue-it-back-together-again tool, he just happens to leave the room for a snack leaving Jonnie just enough time to swipe the spare from the toolbox.
How is Jonnie going to get past the infra-red detectors? Answer: by wearing the flimsily, compact 100% thermal protective suit kindly supplied by Ker.
Ker even supplies Jonnie with a gun! Swaps it for a gold coin Jonnie just happens to have found earlier in the book.
Thank you, Ker, now please step back into the Incredibly Convenient Character Cupboard till you are needed again.

One of the most important things Jonnie learns after his week of on the job training is that uranium makes the aliens' 'breath-gas' explode. Even the tiniest speck of the stuff will explode a spacesuitful.

How or why uranium explodes 'breath-gas' isn't explained. It just does. Accept it. This is what I meant about Hubbard calling this 'pure science fiction' being such a joke: "I assure you that this is pure science fiction. No fantasy." Yeah. Right. (How - or why - the galaxy-spanning Psychlo empire is teleporting raw materials directly to their homeworld and not off to some factory on a planet somewhere with an atmosphere that won't explode as soon as some naughty native throws a few tons of uranium through the system is also a mystery*.) And why the aliens breath 'breath-gas' and the humans breath 'air' is yet another mystery. Even when they are talking amongst themselves the Psychlos refer to it as 'breath-gas'; they also refer to their females as 'Psychlo females' - that's the same as me referring to Mrs JM as my 'human female' wife (Don't!). But hey, maybe these being are so incredibly stupid they have to build constant reminders into their language to do such obvious things as 'Breath', and 'Eat', and 'Procreate', and 'Get Kerbangoed'.

Psychlo motivational posters must be fun.

Don't Stop!​

Meanwhile Terl is gloating, happily misfiling the 'recon drone' data that shows a hitherto undiscovered massive seam of gold. A massive seam of gold that now only he knows about.

The beautiful vein was still there, naked to view, exposed a hundred feet down a two-thousand-foot cliff. Pure white quartz studded with wires and knobs of gleaming yellow gold! A fortuitous earthquake had caused the cliff face to shear off and fall into the dark depths of the canyon, exposing the fortune. The ancient volcano higher up must have spewed out a geyser of pure liquid gold in some ancient eruption and then covered it shallowly. A stream had cut through the ages and now the slide.

But! (Drama button! (Drama Button)) The recon drone also shows that there is uranium there as well!

Aha! I get it! Terl is going to use Jonnie (who is unlikely to explode near uranium) to illegally dig the gold and buy his Psychlo-ass free! Mwahahahaha!

To be continued:

*Note to self: no it isn't, you dozy berk, it's the entire plot!


13th Jan 2010

Terl is having a good week. First of all he gets all the leverage he could ever wish for over Numph when he discovers and then breaks the secret code by which Numph and his co-conspirator on the homeworld have been communicating as they scam millions from the company.
Flushed with success and leverage Terl decides to continue with his own plan to defraud the company rather than take over Numph's operation because, as he quite reasonably thinks, if a thicko like him can work it out so easily he wants no part of it when some smart people (CSI: Psychlo!) get on the case and start summarily disintegrating people.
So, one day Terl decides it's about time Jonnie did some reading up some earthian books about local geological conditions and announces it's time they took a trip to the local library (which, you will recall, was wonderfully preserved by the Psychlos' Chinko slaves over a millennium ago).
This throws Jonnie in a bit of a panic. His plans to escape aren't fully developed yet but there's precious little time before Chrissie comes looking for him. He improvises, gathers his gear, and is instantly thwarted in first plan (to suddenly open the pressurised cabin of the vehicle and let out all the breath-gas) when Terl turns up in a giant pick-up truck instead of his usual sports tank and tells him to get into the back.
At the library, after making sure that Terl really can't read English, Jonnie fills his arms with copies of Weapons of Mass Destruction for Dummies, The Eye-Spy Book of Secret Nuclear Missile Silos, Reverse Engineering Atomic Bombs for Fun and Profit and finally The Reader's Digest Big Colour Book of Mountains (just to keep Terl from getting suspicious).
As they leave, there, standing in the street, is a horse. It's Jonnie's horse, Windsplitter (so called, presumably, because it can fart and belch at the same time?) And Windsplitter is not alone! for with him are two other horses. And Chrissie is riding one of them! Her little sister is riding the other. (I don't remember Chrissie's little sister ever having been mentioned before but it's possible she was - and I'm not going back to look - but her sudden arrival is a bit of a WTF? moment.)

In a flurry of very short sentences. Terl captures the two women and all three horses. Jonnie's ace in the hole, secretly procured, hand gun turns out to be a dud. Terl was one step ahead of the game all along. It was he who provided the weapon, not Kerplunk.

To cut a lot of How? Who? Why? dialogue short it turns out that Windsplitter is one smart horse capable not only of returning to the village after Jonnie was captured but able to lead Chrissie and her sister (who wouldn't be left behind) straight to the scene of the crime. Are horses really that smart? That they can go and get help and remember where they were ten months ago? Given that there is the distinct possibility of lots of mining coming up I'm looking forward to some real Rin-Tin-Tin, Lassie, Champion the Wonder Horse dialogue before very much longer.

"Trapped - must - get - help..."
"Look! It's Windsplitter!"
"Windsplitter. Good boy! Go tell Chrissie we're trapped in the mine, the water level is rising and we're running short of brea - of air! tell her to start pumps one and five, divert the auxiliary drainage system, and get here quick with a standard mark 5 Mason-Whitney boring drill. And some sandwiches... Good boy. Go! Windsplitter Go!"
"Do you think he'll make it Jonnie?"
"He's gotta, Zeke. He's gotta...."

15th Jan 2010
Instalment The latest

- in which not a lot happens because I didn't read that much due to my baby being up half the night playing Let's Keep Daddy Awake By Jumping on Him and Putting Heavy Things Onto His Head.
Oh, we had fun!

Terl is so pretty chuffed with himself that he frees Jonnie from his welded-on collar and lets him have the run of the place. Chrissie and her sister, however, are chained; held captive in a cage with electrified bars. Anything that touches them instantly burns to a crisp, as Terl demonstrates with a handy coyote:

With his gloved paw Terl held the struggling coyote and launched it at the bars.
There was a searing puff of light.
The coyote shrieked.
An instant later it was a charred, crackling mess on the bars turning black.

- somewhere in the distance the Roadrunner clicks his heels together, "Meep! Meep!"

What is a 'searing puff'?

Anyway, only momentarily dismayed at this turn of events, Jonnie soon sets to, doing man stuff; chopping down trees to build a fence to keep Windplitter from frying himself (so obviously not that smart then), and hunting food; that sort of thing.

The Women?

[Terl] noted idly that the females had cleaned up the old robes, dismantled the meat-drying rack and neatened the place up.

"I mean, just because we've been kidnapped by a nine foot tall purple monster and chained to an electric fence with small bombs wired to our necks doesn't mean we have to lower our standards now, does it? I mean, look at this place. It's a tip!"

Jonnie and Kerplunk ship a load of gear to an abandoned human military establishment. Kerplunk jokes that Terl is setting up some sort of school and Jonnie realises that this is in fact the truth. Whatever Terl's plans are (he hasn't worked it out yet) they include teaching more man-animals to use mining equipment.

It's amazing how well things are built to last in America. When they set down all their equipment at the base Jonnie and Kerplunk go for a wander about. There are lots of rooms in the base, all equipped with bunks and lockers. Presumably this building still has a roof and windows because there's no mention of them not having a roof and windows but, if the back story we have been spoon fed over the last 200 pages is to be believed, this building has been abandoned for a thousand years.
Not ten, or twenty, or three hundred, but a thousand. And the roof is still on. A thousand years ago the Vikings were discovering America and some monk was writing Beowulf in his spare time. A thousand years is a LONG time. The paintwork on the exterior walls is still clear enough for Jonnie to read signs painted on them. Nice to know all those military tax Dollars are being spent on good, solid, durable stuff.



16th Jan 2010

Fear and Loathing in Brigadoon.

Terl flies Jonnie across the top of the world to Scotland in a cargo plane-thing. For some reason known only to L Ron Hubbard Terl has decided to press gang more man-animals from the other side of the planet rather than have a look round see if there are any more local sources of supply. Maybe Jonnie's dwindling tribe of 30 or so individuals is all that's left in the North Americas, who knows?

Scotland is described as seeming to:
swim in a soft mist; everything was hazed and faintly blue. It seemed a very beautiful place, but it had dark gorges and inaccessible summits and there was a secretness about it as though its softness concealed a harsh threat
Nice to know someone reads all those brochures Visitscotland (VisitScotland - Scotland's National Tourist Organisation) print with my tax money.

Terl's plan (subtle as usual) is to fly over a village with phasers set to stun (sorry) blast cannons set to stun, land, then shovel the snoring bodies into the back. Jonnie has a better idea. 'Give me two days!' he says 'And I'll have a hold full of volunteers.'
"You got twelve hours, kid." Snarls Terl. "Then I'm a comin' in, all guns blazing!"

Jonnie walks towards the village, is captured by the locals, taken before a gathering of their elders and convinces them, with a vague 'trust me I'm a hero' speech, to let him take fifty of their finest young men to the other side of the planet, possibly never to return - all in THREE pages. Three pages after that he has a thousand volunteers from all the local clans (sigh!) and has to organise a competition to select the likeliest candidates. Three pages after that, the thousand now whittled down to a mere eighty-three, are strapping down their gear in the plane (barrel of whiskey - spelled wrong - and all), taking their seats, and waiting for Terl to hand out the complementary peanuts. I'll say one thing for this book, it doesn't dawdle.


Great place. Lived here for nearly 20 years now. I don't know if LRH ever visited Scotland* but if he ever did I'll bet good money** that he didn't get off the coach.

This is what Scotsmen talk like in the year 3000:

"Look saucy noo," the weezing voice said, "dinna let him run away."

Tch! 'dinna' indeed, it's 'dinnae'!

"I amna afeered of naething!" said one young man.

Nice to know Ned culture survived.

You'll also be pleased to know that the national dress of rags and kilts topped with a shaggy mane and a full beard also survived (and some of the men were pretty hairy too! Boom-Tish! Ayethankyou! It's the way I tell 'em...).

Scotland, you will have noticed, is populated entirely by extras left over from the last Highlander movie. And as for raising an army in minutes it's bollocks! This is the West Coast of Scotland we're talking about! (LRH identifies Loch Shin as the location.) Nothing happens in minutes in the West Coast of Scotland. Very little happens in weeks. I'm still waiting for a local lumber to come round and finish a job he started eighteen years ago (though I realise this isn't just a Scottish problem - and he did die about ten years ago, that might have something to do with it.)

There's a joke told in these parts (I know, I tell it) about a Spanish visitor being asked about what life was like in Spain.
"Is very relaxed," the visitor replies, "Is very slow. We rush nothing. Everything is ... I don't know if there are any words for this in Gaelic ... everything is mañana."
"Ach well, yes," replies old Fergus, "We have plenty of words like that, plenty of words ... but none of them have quite the same sense of urgency about them."

More mañana.

*Google gives no hits for the phrase "Hubbard visited Scotland" so he can't have - God, but I do love doing in-depth research.

** Not a lot, but good.


19th Jan 2010

Where was I? Sorry for the extra special long mañana but I needed to give my brain a rest from this stuff. I'd like to say I freshened my pallet with some Proust or something equally erudite but I got distracted by this pile of 1980s SF movies on VHS (10p each in a charity shop) so have been watching people in mullets hitting each other all weekend.

The Story So Far: Blah blah blah. Now read on...

The Scots soon settle into life in America. Indeed, within forty-eight hours a bunch of the younger ones have found a half-buried truck stuffed with crates of well-oiled, thousand year old Thompson submachine guns*, and thousands of thousand year old bullets for them too. Soon the lads have stripped and serviced the weapons and test-fired them. No one gets their face blown off. Yah beauty! They work! Jonnie and the elders of the clan have trouble restraining the youngsters who want to go off blasting the bad guys right away.

Actually this is a total fib they have no trouble restraining them at all. Yet another moment of tension evaporates before it gets a chance to develop. What happens is this: hothead Angus proposes getting tooled up and riding into the Psychlo mining down just over the horizon. "A group could sneak over tonight and blow them to pieces!" Great cheers from all the testosterone-driven, fighting warlike Scots. Grrrr Grrrrrr! Kill! Kill! Kill!

One of the older men stands up.

"This young man," said Robert the Fox, pointing at Angus McTavish who was standing there holding his man-machine gun,** " has done well. It is a credit to be resourceful and brave." The young man beamed. "But," continued Robert the Fox, "it is one of the great wisdoms that one succeeds at what one prepares totally. One minesite destroyed will not end the power of the Psychlos. Our war is against the entire Psychlo empire and for this we must work hard and prepare." He became conspiratorial. "We must not wipe out just one base and alert them to our intent."
That did it. The young men thought this was very wise and happily finished their dinner of roasts and steaks.

Oh aye, right enough, back to ma dinner then...

*I should just point out that a Thomson submachine gun is what is more commonly known as a 'Tommy gun' the sort of thing gangsters in Warner Brothers movies of the late Thirties used to 'Rub out the opposition' in a hail of bullets - usually from speeding cars.

**Don't - just don't.


22nd Jan 2010

The Scots in Blabberfield Earth have, over the centuries, kept many traditions, books and written histories lost to the rest of Mankind. For instance, they have lived unmolested in the northern parts of Scotland for a thousand years because the Psychlos have never ventured further north than the line of a great battle in which they suffered losses. The battle took place on a line that extends from Dumbarton to Falkirk, the narrowest bit point of the mainland. There is a hand-written account, 'a romance', of this battle in the 'University Library'.

"Tell me more of this romance," said Jonnie.
"Oh, it is quite badly written," said the historian. A curiosity, not literature. It was scribbled by a private in the Queen's Own Highlanders who escaped north from the battle. A sapper I think he was. They handle mines."
"Land mines?" said the parson. "Mines for ore?"
"No, no," said the historian. "I think they used the word mines for explosives buried in the earth - when the enemy crossed them they exploded. The private used the term 'tactical nuclear weapons'."The 'badly written' romance goes on to say that, though the Psychlos had many tanks and troops in reserve, they retreated and never returned.

Another penny drops in Jonnie's skull - honestly, watching this guy work things out is like playing one of those seaside arcade games where you roll pennies onto a pile of other coins while a mechanical arm pushes repeatedly against the back of them. Stuff keeps getting shoved in but nothing ever seems to come out.

Have you noticed what else has happened? What's happened to all the "Och aye the noo, hoots clootie dumplings? Awlright, Big Yin? Giz a deep-fried Pizza," talk? The Scottish contingent are suddenly talking standard-ish English. I suspect one of the tests Jonnie set up to whittle down the numbers back in Scotland was an elocution test:

"Hae nae broon coo?"

From time to time Hubbard does remember that he made this bunch Scottish:

"I think it's best that I go."
"Na, Na," said Robert the Fox, his accent thickening into dialect from sudden alarm. "We canna ha' ye dae thet laddie."


Dunneldeldeen looked down at the canyon top. "It is no 'roam in the gloamin','" he said. "But I can try!"


A couple of Jonnie's pennies finally tip over the edge and he realises what he needs is something called a 'Geiger Counter'. With it he will be able to find the Uranium which will be near whatever it is Terl wants digging up. He sends a scout to search Denver using a thousand year old telephone directory which has 'almost gone to pieces'. He proposes going himself but a sudden outbreak of thickening accent (see above) dissuades him. The scout returns empty handed. Then Jonnie has a brainwave. If they can't find one, they will build one! They have no diagrams to work from but, luckily, Jonnie was trained to use the Uranium detector back at the Psychlo camp as part of his internship.

Woo-hoo! Using only the skills that only a hero of cheap fiction can possess he instantly trains himself to take images with a 'picto-recorder' casually slung round his neck, then casually walks into the Psychlo mining camp, casually pulls out a vital wire from their uranium detector and, when it is discovered it does not work, volunteers to repair it. Surreptitiously picto-recordering away, he needlessly dissembles, then reassembles, the device before reconnecting the wire he had previously loosened. Hurrah!

BUT! On the way out he bumps into Terl. "What are you doing taking picto-recordings here? Give me that picto-recorder!" and, without even thinking to look at the picto-recorderings Jonnie has taken, Terl grinds them into dust. Thus showing what an incredibly astute and skilled security officer he is.

The next day Terl turns up at the man-animals' compound. Finally he tells Jonnie what his plan is. The Man-animals have nine months to dig out all the gold he has discovered....

And this is where the story really starts, folks - only 820 pages to go.

11th Feb 2010

Normal service will be resumed soon. Life (inconvenient stuff that it is) has been getting in the way of doing reading of big, heavy, crappy books (that and my wrists were getting tired; this bugger is heavy).

I also got slight sidetracked by one of the selectively edited, unsolicited testimonials that fill the first couple of pages. You know the sort of thing. You see them all the time on book covers, movie posters and DVD sleeves: '"Amazing" The Guardian' when you know what the Guardian's reviewer really said was something like "It's amazing that this total disaster ever got made..."

One of the snippets, lurking between bits taken out of context from The Baltimore Sun and Newsday, is this:

"I read straight through in one sitting."
Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl is a favourite author of mine. He's been writing SF and editing SF magazines since the late thirties. He has lived his life steeped in the field, helped organize the first ever SF fan conventions, edited Galaxy and Worlds of If magazines among others, he was married to Judith Merril for a while (she of the writers' conferences in Milford). He is still alive. Still writing. The man knows his stuff.

I was hooked by Hubbard's implied claims in his intro that he practically invented modern SF when the 'top brass' of Street and Smith (the publishers of Astounding magazine) 'directly' ordered John Campbell (the editor of same) to buy stories from Hubbard thereby getting 'people into his stories and get something going beside machines'.

I just got given Frederik Pohl's autobiography. Isn't serendipitously wonderful?

I read it. John Campbell gets mentioned a lot, as does Isaac Asimov, C.M. Kornbluth, Jack Williamson, Hal Clement, H Beam Piper, Forrest J Ackerman, Henry Kuttner and all sorts of other names from the Golden Age.


At a dinner party at the Jamesons' I met a flamboyant character who had just returned from being shipwrecked off the coast of Alaska and was on his way to some equally jock exploit in some equally improbable part of the world. His name was L Ron Hubbard. He was the kind of person who expects, and without fail gets, the instant total attention of everyone in any room he enters. If his later destiny as guru of world Scientology was anywhere in his thoughts at that time he gave no sign of it.
Ch. 6 Pg. 125

And that's it. Five sentences. No further mentions of the 'inventor' of modern SF

Here's the man himself from his blog (the way the future).

Nearly thirty years ago a book called Battlefield Earth appeared under Ron’s byline. My copy reached me around dinnertime on a day when I had just finished packing for a next-day flight to Europe. It was a thick book, science fiction, written in Ron’s familiar, over-the-top, buckeye satirical style. Having finished eating and all the domestic business of putting the kids to bed and so on, I remembered the book and carried it up to my office on the third floor, meaning to look it over when I got back from wherever it was I was going that time.

But I glanced at the opening pages before I put it on the when-I-get-a-free-minute shelf. And then I read the next page or two.
And then the next.

Battlefield Earth is a long book, but I didn’t put it down to get some sleep. I read straight through that night, didn’t close the book until the sun was high in the sky and I just had time to get dressed and get to the Red Bank airport, where a puddle-jumper flight would take me to connect with TWA’s morning flight to Heathrow.

Now, I can’t account for this. I’ve read a lot of really great books in my life, but very few of them have kept me up all night when I was going to have to travel several thousand miles before I would be in the same room as a bed again.

I’m not even comfortable in saying that Battlefield Earth is a good book. In many ways it isn’t. In some qualities, like style and plausibility and depth of characterization, you’d have to say that Ron had a tin ear, but it sold a lot of copies and they weren’t all to devout Scientologists.

And there, I'm afraid, I got fed up and stopped.

One day....
Its a great novel and the stuff of Hugo awards ? No , but at the time I read it , I enjoyed it. . It was like reading one those old golden ages science fiction novels of yesteryear. But that said, Its not a book id ver read again.
I still want to watch Travolta’s adaptation.

Travolta 's portray of Terel wasn't the problem . The casting Barry Pepper as John was very poor casting , he didn't look or sound the part. And story and plot decision direction of the film were poor. Done correctly, this could have bye art the very least a campy fun science fiction film. It wasn't even that. This one had possibilities.
Pepper was not good but the direction is most at fault especially the phenominal number of dutched angles which, I'd guess, were trying to engender a kind of comic book vitality to the proceedings but just ended up convincing the audience that no one had really thought anything through and the director was trying to distract with choppy camera angles. I've seen a few other films directed by Roger Christian which were much less 'stylish'. At best they were competant. He was totally out of his depth in Battlefield Earth.

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