Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Once upon a time I did a little blog reviewing L. Ron Hubbard's "masterpiece" Battlefield Earth, which I ever-so-imaginatively named Battlefield Spork. I had fun doing it despite the fact that it meant reading through the book again, and it was unexpectedly popular given the amount of effort I put into promoting it (zero).  As it was winding down someone recommended that I cover Mission Earth next. I said I'd think about it and took a vacation from blogging for several months, which is longer than I had planned (what can I say, stuff happened; also, I'm a very lazy man).

But a month or so ago I ordered a cheapo used copy of book one of the Mission Earth series, The Invaders Plan, just out of curiosity. What I found was a book that was even worse than Battlefield Earth, with a new cast of contemptible characters, self-destructively moronic villains, an obnoxiously perfect and bland hero, and as always rants about psychology. It sucked, it was a chore to read, but as I went through it I kept writing commentary in my head.

So here we go again.

A little about Mission Earth - I'm no Hubbard biographer and I'm not prepared to put a lot of research into this, but from what I've learned Mission Earth is Hubbard's last book, written when he was on the run for the whole tax scam thing and orchestrating the greatest infiltration of the US government in history. He mailed it to his followers in the form of a million-word manuscript with instructions for it to be hacked up into a book series, which some unlucky editors got to do for a boss who never communicated in person and actually died three months after the publishing of the first volume. The story behind the editing of Mission Earth is pretty fascinating, but basically the poor souls turned the pile of paper into a ten-book "dekalogy," with a flimsy framing device to try to tie things together.

Critical reception was, you may be shocked to hear, quite negative, but the publishers found no shortage of blurbs to put on the cover raving about how it "bristles with excitement on every page" or "beats like a strong pulse." The Invaders Plan at least managed to be a national bestseller, though it sounds like as with Battlefield Earth this may have been due to Scientologists buying copies in bulk.

As for the story itself, from what I've read it's shaping up to be your routine "alien empire with a sinister interest in Earth" deal, but with the added wackiness of human-looking aliens attempting to infiltrate our world and understand its culture. While Battlefield Earth was supposedly "pure science fiction," Hubbard billed Mission Earth as a satire, and had a ghostwriter do a quite scholarly Author's Note about the proud history of the genre, complete with bibliography. This baffles me. He isn't any less subtle about his hatred for psychology and governments and doctors than he was in Battlefield Earth, so I'm not sure why one's a satire and the other isn't. Maybe it's because Mission Earth is a little more specific, and eventually gets to the then-modern world, allowing the author to express his views on society and whatnot.

And that's why I'm reading the series, really. It certainly isn't for the characters, or the settings, or the story, which are all bloody awful. Mission Earth instead offers a look into the mind of a man who believed that an international conspiracy of psychologists and bankers had teamed up with Nazis to go after him, but who nonetheless is held as a messianic figure by a certain group even while others claim he's one of the fathers of modern science fiction.

Ya'll are welcome to come along for the ride, of course. So let's - how did Hubbard put it last book? - strap in and get ready for blastoff. Things might get a little rough.

Seriously, you'll miss the Psychlos by the halfway point of book one.