Friday, May 30, 2014

Hubbard the Reformer

Sometimes it's enough for a satirist to simply point out society's flaws.  Racism, sexism, religious intolerance, income inequality, the quality of airline food, all are enduring problems that a single writer would be hard-pressed to solve by him- or herself.  But if these issues have been present for so long that we have lost sight of them, or are treating them as constants rather than variables, then highlighting them can be in itself a service.

Others want to do more, however, and have thoughts about how to solve these problems.  So in Hubbard's story, the alien protagonists are not just out to identify what's wrong with Earth (or specifically, New York City and the surrounding parts of the East Coast), they have a plan to deal with them, so that our planet will thrive and prosper and be fit for conquest rather than extermination.  Mission Earth is therefore not only a collection of witty and hilarious observations on the follies of modern living, but a guidebook to putting our culture back on track.

In theory.  In practice, hey, it's Hubbard.

Even aside from the fact that this "guidebook" gets bogged down in pointless sideplots, rape and underage sex, the first problem is that there's two sets of prescriptions in it, one for Earth, and one for Voltar.  Now I've tried to make a point about how Hubbard is blind to the similarities between the rotten Earth described in his story and the sublime Voltar he lays out for us, but let's ignore that for a second and assume the two planets really started out completely different.  By the end of the tale, both worlds have been infected by the same twisted ideologies, yet the heroes come up with a different checklist to follow for each.

This makes sense to some extent, as the aliens were originally concerned with Earth's environmental issues, which Voltar did not share.  While psychology, psychiatry and PR are introduced to Voltar in Book Nine, in Book Ten the Grand Council (or mainly Heller) is able to come up with a series of proclamations to fix the damage Earth had done to Voltarian civilization.  These corrosive ideas had only taken hold among a small subset of the population, and they were still able to identify and quarantine the vectors for this cultural contagion before it could spread any further.  Earth, in contrast, had been host to psychology and PR for close to a century.  There's no handful of ringleaders to be exiled to an arctic work camp humane asylum, but a worldwide profession perpetuating such practices, so different steps would be needed to cure it. 

But Hubbard doesn't give us any.  Heller shows up, fixes Earth's environmental problems by making us dependent on alien technology we can neither produce nor repair, and despite having absolute power over the planet thanks to deposing and replacing Rockecenter, he doesn't do anything about psychology or psychiatry, and the most he does about PR is to get it off his back while leaving everyone else fair game.

This is odd for a book supposedly meant to help us, Earth, not the fictional planet Voltar.  We need a solution to our psychology-psychiatry-PR problem, or so Hubbard insists, and while the author writes at length about how awful these practices are, and how they're ruining society, the only instructions we have are for the wrong planet.  In fact, by the end of the book everyone seems to write Earth off as a lost cause, a fundamentally insane world where you could print a book like Mission Earth without any additional harm done (self-referential humor?  self-depreciation?).  The heroes settle for correcting Voltar and leading it into a new golden age, while Earth remains rotten culturally, but clean environmentally.

Maybe Hubbard's getting meta, satirizing the concept of satire itself.  "Oh, you want some witty observations that identify and offer solutions to problems?  Here's a bunch of solutions you can't use.  And here's some rape scenes instead of wit."  Deep stuff, bro.

Let's take a more detailed look at Hubbard's problems with Earth, his solutions, and whether they're feasible.

Psychology/Psychiatry - This/these are of course the root of all evil.  The teachings of Sigmund Freud reduce everyone to sex-obsessed perverts who engage in pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, or even - oh, horrors! - homosexual relations.  The entire profession is little more than an excuse for "doctors" to murder people in cruel and inventive ways, and possibly rape them before or after the act.  They don't even have the benefit of ignorance, like the folks who invented the lobotomy; modern psychologists know that their treatments don't work, and know that people really do have souls, but are bent on mutilating their patients and convincing the survivors they are soulless sex fiends, because...  Anyway, the solution for Voltar is to ban the professions and appoint a Royal censor to make sure nobody ever speaks of them again.  Earth, as previously mentioned, is just boned.

Now, the problem with deciding one thing is the cause of all of society's problems is that any evidence of those problems without that cause sort of completely undermines your argument.  Hubbard really shot himself in the foot by diving into the sordid underbelly of Voltar instead of presenting it as an obnoxiously perfect utopia.  Voltar has nymphomania, pedophilia, bestiality, and gays even when Gris is the only one who follows the false faith of psychiatry.  Dr. Crobe creates flesh freaks before he's converted to Freudism, and the Apparatus is filled with violent murderers and rapists who have no knowledge of Earth.

A related assertion, that psychology is able to convince people they are rotten animals who don't have souls, is similarly puzzling.  Why knowledge of the subconscious or brain chemistry inevitably leads to atheism is an unanswered question - in our world it's biology that catches flak for undermining religion, by suggesting that humans evolved into their current form as a result of natural processes instead of being created as the good book says.  Similarly, it seems that atheists are incapable of adhering to a moral code without the assistance of religion, and therefore form rampaging mobs of rapists.  So anyone who is cruel to his fellow man is by definition an atheist/psychiatrist?  Nobody who believes in the soul ever did anything bad to someone else?

Even a cursory knowledge of human history shows that this is not the case, and that psychology (as a science, rather than a philosophy) is relatively recent, while man's inhumanity to man is as old as the species.  In fact, since psychology's debut we've gotten as humane as we've ever been, allowing women to vote and starting to treat them as equals, considering other races to be more than animals, putting an end to colonialism and allowing self-determination, and so on.  It would be a mistake to attribute this progress to psychology, but if nothing else the historical record shows that despite Freud et al's best efforts, psychology has been powerless to stop things from getting better.

The annoying thing is that the author tries to present an ideal form of mental health with his arctic asylum work camps, where inmates are kept in good physical condition and otherwise ignored until they decide to be sane, but doesn't offer much to fill psychology's spiritual void.  I've complained since Book One that the author keeps mentioning wood spirits and Manco Devils without actually building a mythology or religion out of them.  He insists that people have souls after all, but doesn't have anything to say about them other than that psychology is evil for declaring otherwise; at most there's that bizarre talk at the start of Book Two about Life and Time and stuff.  Maybe we need to buy Hubbard's other books to learn more about our souls?

Drugs - Drugs are bad, m'kay?  They make people sick, get them addicted, and eventually kill them.  They're used to finance some really bad people who do really bad things.  Don't do drugs, that'd be bad.

More specifically, drugs are pushed by pharmaceutical companies, who are not nearly rich enough from selling overpriced medicines, to help bolster psychology, which offers clients a way to solve their mental problems without medication.  Drugs are all that separates heroic, murderous mobsters from villainous, murderous mobsters, and how insane intelligence directors can take over the government without fumbling with a hypno-helmet.  But the solution to this problem is simple: legalize it.  Without a state-backed monopoly the drug companies will wither, profit margins will drop, and drugs will just fade away.  In this case, despite how entrenched drugs are in Earth society, and how recently they came to Voltar, the same strategy fixes both situations.

The author seems to have some misconceptions about the concept of supply and demand, but that shouldn't surprise us, as the author has misconceptions about everything else.  People are not going to stop wanting drugs just because sellers aren't making as much money off them, and drug providers are not going to give up on a widened, legal market simply because they're not making as much per sale as they were during the days of the black market.  Folks will continue to want a way to chemically alter their state of consciousness and escape/enhance their dreary lives, and other people will make it their business to keep them supplied.  Economics will find a way.  The upside of legalizing drugs is not that it keeps people from doing them, but that it reduces the crimes associated with an illegal substance, gives the state a little more tax revenue, and allows law enforcement to focus on crimes that involve people doing things to each other rather than to themselves.

PR - Oh vile perversion of proper journalism!  To invent outrageous crimes for the sake of sales, to pin them on innocent men for the sake of headlines!  To try people in the papers rather than a court of law!  To harass private citizens in search of a scoop!  Luckily all Voltar has to do to put an end to this is ban the practice, and appoint a Royal Censor to stamp out any resurgence of improper reporting.  This office can protect individuals from any snide insinuations, disingenuous assertions, or tabloid journalism, but of course will never be used to suppress the truth or cover up misdeeds.  Earth is once again beyond help on this front, or rather PR ceases to be a problem once it stops upsetting the protagonists.

This is one of the few things in Mission Earth that feels halfway relevant these days, though not so much because of spurious accusations of bigamy sweeping the media.  We live in a world of rival 24/7 news networks rushing to be the first to the scoop, and sometimes facts can get left in the dust.  More than that, we saw ten years ago how the entanglement of government and the media can distort reality and lead us into wars, not to mention give the enemy information about troop positions when Geraldo Rivera sketches maps in the sand.

Unfortunately, Hubbard couldn't foresee the rise of the internet and alternative news sources, which now makes it quite difficult for one sinister news agency to have total control of the media, or for lies to go unchallenged.  Though this makes appointing an official censor to purge bad ideas from society harder than ever, I'd argue that the benefits outweigh the downsides, and would count the difficulty of censorship as one of those benefits.

So, halfway real problem, wholly unrealistic solution that no longer applies to the current situation.

Intelligence - The Apparatus' appropriation of Earth intelligence practices was morally repugnant.  Recruiting criminals right out of prisons to use as agents, and unleashing these criminals on your own population, how barbaric!  Voltar is able to fix this problem by forbidding any such "foreign intelligence techniques" from being used... on the Voltar Confederacy.  Though the Apparatus is irredeemably evil for using Earth's intelligence techniques, the Voltarian military branches' own intelligence services use quite similar methods.  As Heller privately admits, the real crime of the Apparatus/Earth intelligence services was using their skills to suppress their own citizens rather than foreign enemies.

This is another shockingly relevant moment from a thirty-year-old book written by a space case.  Today we grapple with the question of how much the government should be spying on us or our overseas allies, and how far agencies should be able to go if they think lives are at stake.  Some feel torture, indefinite detainment, or assassination-by-drone are justifiable tools in the war on terror, while others are more concerned with living under a government prepared to do all that to combat perceived threats to itself.  The author's answer seems to be "go nuts, just on the other guy," which is great news for me - I fall into the opposite camp, so now I can tell my opponents that they're agreeing with L. Ron Hubbard.

This doesn't quite solve the problem of an intelligence service recruiting criminals to use against its population, but that's okay because as the Apparatus shows, the kind of violent criminals that end up in jail aren't exactly special agent material.  At every stage of its conspiracy the Apparatus was constantly hampered by the petty corruption, pathological need to do evil, and incompetence of its forces.  Which at least explains why Earth intelligence services, or rather the successful ones, have refrained from making similar mistakes.  The world would be a better place if all the bad guys worked through minions as lazy and stupid as Soltan Gris.

"isms" - Oh, you don't remember this one?  It's okay, it's only mentioned once or twice, like while Heller is watching the frenzied mobs of the Confederacy scream their hatred of the planet Earth in song.  "The clutter of isms and hates could all be solved if they just realized that only a handful of men were using them for personal exploitation: their political creeds were just nonsense and lies manufactured for the benefit of the few, while pretending that they answered the demands of the many."  Yes, racism, sexism, sectarianism, jingoism, materialism, all were invented by powerful elites to control the masses.  Politics is similarly a lie, any form of government is controlled by those same elites, and if we simply realized this, banded together, and disposed of those psychologists elites, we might have a chance at putting society back on track.

Sounds almost Marxist, really, and identical to the "every problem is the fault of one bad thing" message about psychology/psychiatry.  Likewise, the whole argument is invalidated by the Manco-Antimanco hatred seen in the Confederacy, the objectification of women by both the Apparatus and other Voltarians, and the hypocritical disdain Lombar and Gris have of "riffraff."  Probably the only reason we don't see any religious divisions on Voltar is that religion itself is kept extremely vague. 

The odd thing is how this criticism doesn't mesh with the rest of the story's take on Earth.  Humans sound basically good, and all their negative qualities were introduced by psychologists Nazis corrupt elites.  Taking those bad guys out should set society back on track, as easily as Voltar was able to shake off the Earth Flu.  But no, Heller and the rest of the Voltarians are only able to shrug, turn their backs on our planet, and declare the whole world fundamentally insane, beyond redemption.   Even when they're more or less in absolute control of it, well-positioned to remove those elites and let humanity's inner goodness shine once more.

Maybe we're supposed to want to prove Heller wrong?  Kill some scapegoats and declare ourselves free of bigotry and division?  Shall we start with the landowners, or the guys wearing glasses?

Government - Another understated point.  Voltar is of course perfect because it's got the sort of monarchy that Jettero Heller can guide from beside the throne, while Earth is corrupt and insane and so on.  The author doesn't spend a lot of time comparing different styles of government, which is odd because he has his heroes completely alter how Earth is run by the end of the story.  Izzy, the anarcho-corporate-feudalist, literally buys every country on the planet and converts them into corporations.  His reasoning has nothing to do with responsiveness or representation or anything, rather he's calculated that corporations spend 80% of their resources dealing with government regulations, so if the government was abolished, everyone would be 80% richer!  Which is all that people want, right?  Heller just kind of goes along with this for whatever reason, and doesn't even bother to justify it with "it sure would be easier to get things done if my corporation was the legal government of this planet."

I think I pointed out when this first came up in Book Two how odd it was for Hubbard to favor a corporation taking over the country, rather than a religious movement doing the same.  Especially if that religious movement has gone through a lot of effort to try and convince people that it is a religious movement and not a corporation.

This whole point is a little less random if you remember parts of Battlefield Earth, where Jonnie had similar thoughts about government.  When he heard about the concept of taxes, he was annoyed that governments would have to take money from citizens instead of being able to make money themselves.  Again, the hero was unconcerned with a government being by the people, for the people, or any of that - it's all about cash.  Ironically, the happy ending in that book came about when Jonnie was able to convince warmongering aliens to embrace insipid consumerism, while in this book Heller shakes his head at how Earth's materialist culture "was fixated on material possessions" so that "a can of soup was equated on their communication lines--measured by volume of minutes--far, far more important than a man's soul."  Maybe Battlefield Earth's consumerism was better because the people all believed in souls, because they were free of psychology?

It's also odd that both books come across as so pro-business when their antagonists are an interdimensional alien imperialist mining corporation, and an oil monopoly with control of several adjacent business sectors, respectively.  I guess it's because the heroes end up forming their own corporations to defeat their foes and take over the world (in a good way).  And this leads me to my next point, concerning the means through which Hubbard has his characters make their reforms.  It's related to his thoughts about intelligence operations, as well as the fact that "one man rules the entire rotten system" isn't on Hubbard's list of things wrong with Earth.

Let's look back at Rockecenter.  He is, if not the Big Bad of the Earth story, at least one of the Biggest Bads.  Arguably he's just a puppet of that jilted psychologist lady with the mobile home, but the fact remains that Rockecenter is in de facto control of the whole planet, using his monopoly over the oil supply and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as his ties to the media, to bend elected governments to his will and crush anyone who opposes him.  For most of the Earth stuff (that involves Heller instead of Gris' sexual escapades), Rockecenter is portrayed as the focal point of a vast, sinister conspiracy able to turn all the world against our heroes, the figurative head of the octopus with its tentacles in everything, an analogy that Hubbard takes all the fun out of by explicitly naming the corporation Octopus Oil.

The Rockecenter Conspiracy is very much a bad thing, but as it turns out, it's not to much the "conspiracy that controls the world" angle that the author disagrees with as it is the bloke in charge of it.  When Rockecenter gets blown off the road and ends up floating face-down in a river, our hero merely uses the bogus legal documents so helpfully supplied by his Voltarian enemies to take over the whole operation, keeping the legitimate Rockecenter bastard around as a patsy.  Hell, he even keeps Mr. Bury, Rockecenter's equivalent to Darth Vader, if the Dark Lord of the Sith was a fussy little lawyer with a reptile fetish and nothing remotely cool about him.

Does Heller then break up the monopoly and free the markets?  Release the cartel's stranglehold on politics?  Nope!  Instead Heller merges the Rockecenter conspiracy with his own energy company, brings in Izzy the corporate feudalist, and takes over the world.  Because whether it comes to twisting the law, undermining the government, bribery, coercion, mind rape via hypno-helmet, or violence, the key difference between the good guys of Mission Earth and its bad guys is not their methods, but who is using them.

The Rockecenter machine is not evil because it's a monopolistic conspiracy, it's evil because Rockecenter is the one in charge of it, and he likes psychology instead of Heller's vague, undefined religion.  The Apparatus is not evil for using Earth intelligence methods, it's evil because it used those methods on its fellow Voltarians rather than anyone else in the galaxy.  When Gris burns down buildings in Istanbul to cover his tracks he's being a bad guy, when Heller blows up buildings in New York to deal with federal pursuers he's being a good guy.  Lombar gunning down palace staff as he flees, or starting a civil war, are villainous acts; Prince Mortiiy gunning down palace staff as he flees, or starting a civil war, are not held against him when he's considered for Emperor.

The most you could say is that Heller never raped anyone, or pushed drugs (though he did legalize them).  But other than that, whether someone is good and evil comes down to what creed they follow, not their deeds as they follow it.

Related is a disturbing undercurrent in Mission Earth, a decidedly authoritarian one.  Voltar, the "good planet," is a monarchy run by an imperial dynasty with the help of hereditary lords.  It's a benevolent monarchy, of course, managed by wise men who were bred to be superior leaders - please ignore the fact that the Voltarian monarchy passes from a decrepit old drug addict to a belligerent, murderous oaf, and that the nobles are just as prone to politicking, incompetence and corruption as elected government officials.  Anything with the prefix "Noble" or "Royal" is in a class above the rest of society, subject to special privileges and different laws.  Indeed, the great crime of Lombar Hisst is for wanting to take the throne despite his common birth, and Earth is viewed as a bizarre place if its denizens are occasionally able to succeed at such plots.

This obsession with nobility and bloodlines runs though the book's "good" characters.  Heller is not just a naval officer, he's a Royal officer, and therefore of impeccable honor and unmatched ability.  Krak can't be just another Apparatus dreg, but a disgraced Countess who is restored to her full title and estates by the end of the book.  Then there's that obnoxious Prince Caucalsia myth that implies Earth was settled by alien separatists, which ends with Babe Corleone being declared his descendent and therefore "queen."  Some people are just inherently better than everyone else, and they just so happen to fall into the "good guy" camp.

I'm almost cynical enough to wonder if this is a marketing ploy.  The key conceit of Scientology is that alien souls are responsible for all your problems and can be exorcised with enough money, right?  So maybe this suggests that those same readings might reveal that you're host to the soul of King B!!tzllz of Ikki-ikki.  Whenever you're feeling sad or unfulfilled, just remember that you've got the spirit of an undying alien monarch lodged in your sinus cavity.  You're not just special because you belong to an elite movement that knows how the universe really works, you're super special because in a past life you wore some shiny minerals on your head.

Back on track - Heller accomplishes his mission on Earth not through a superior argument or consensus, but by brute force and deceit.  He slips in alien technology to solve our energy problem, and finances his alternative power supply by cheating the stock market with his time-sight.  He uses a false identity and the strategic application of deadly force to usurp control of the world conspiracy, and uses it to bend the planet's governments to his will.  He crushes rival companies through financial chicanery and a bogus controversy over irradiated oil - we're not even given figures for the lives lost or the economic damage done by his artificial energy crisis.  To get past five police officers blocking a door, Heller helps a criminal syndicate take New York's government hostage and seize control of the city.  He solves the Cold War by forcing the UN to ban nuclear war, and by murdering millions of Russians.  And through all this, Heller is assisted by the lovely Countess Krak, who uses a mind-control helmet to overwrite people's personalities and program them to do as she bids.

There is no debate, no reasoning with anyone - or at least not from the "good guys."  On one side you have an enlightened civilization that knows the Life controls Time controls Space somethings Energy and then there's Matter, and on the other are a bunch of apes who think Freud is right and everything's about sex and humans have neither souls nor morality.  Some especially stupid Voltarians may fall prey to Earth's depraved teachings, but we never see anyone tainted by psychology redeemed and brought back to enlightenment - the only good Earthlings are the rare few who don't buy into psychology in the first place, and those are for the most part mobsters, branded outlaws by the evil governments and businesses who oppose them.

No, wait, there were some humans who flipped from pro- to anti-psychology: Miss Candy and Miss Pinch, after Gris raped them straight and turned them against Psychiatric Birth Control.  Um.  I don't think we're meant to read too much into that.

My point is, if satire is supposed to convince us that the author's viewpoint is right, it's a little unsettling that nobody in the story attempts to do the same.  We're repeatedly told that psychology is bogus, but we're also repeatedly shown that there is no use arguing with those who follow psychology, and the only way to get anything done is through coercion, violent or otherwise.  You don't even need consensus to bring about these reforms, just get a few active individuals in key positions of power and have them force everyone else to align to their views.  A bit of a mixed message for a mass-market paperback.

In fact, you could read Mission Earth as an attempt by an underground movement to justify its overthrow of society.  Oh, it wouldn't be a violent revolution, it'd just have the reformers infiltrating the government to take control of everything, and maybe they'd have to utilize the tactics of those evil intelligence agencies to get rid of certain obstacles.  And the group would end up ignoring the input of the rest of the populace, purging society of the things they disagreed with, and installing themselves as permanent unelected overseers to make sure there's no backsliding into bad habits.  But see, it's the only way, 'cause everybody else is beyond reasoning with, and they'll be better off in the end.

I can only wonder about the target audience, then.  If only a small elite (not to be confused with the evil elites who control society) can see things as they truly are, and the rest of the schmucks are clueless, corrupted by the bad guys, and unable to be redeemed, why even satirize to them?  Who's the author trying to convince?  Or is this book meant for his followers, a parable to give them courage as they work to change their world in a way that is earning them increasing scrutiny and condemnation?  Couldn't he have just written them a letter?

Well, I guess you can't really charge people five bucks for an office memo, nor does that get you on the bestsellers list one last time before you're off to do some out-of-body research.

Back to Hubbard the Satirist

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hubbard the Satirist

One of Mission Earth's selling points, I suppose, is that it's simultaneously a bloated tale of implausible science fiction as well as a work of satire.  The introduction to the first book certainly makes this point, and consists of an essay on this history and nature of such literature.  This is one of the things that drew my interest to Mission Earth in the first place, as I was curious about what differences there would be between this lump of dead tree and the anti-psychologist ranting in Battlefield Earth

According to Wikipedia, which Hubbard could never have predicted would render his ghostwritten introduction completely redundant, there's two basic categories of satire, divided not by subject but by tone.  First there's Horatian satire, which can be summed up as silly, but somewhat gentle, like the Simpsons.  It tends to be self-deprecatory and can be as much about telling a funny story as it as a way of nudging people towards improvement.  Contrasted to this is Juvenalian satire; harsh, sarcastic, outraged, like The Daily Show.  There's also a third category, Menippean satire, with the structure of a novel, fragmented narrative, and multiple viewpoints, like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I cannot with any confidence guess which category Mission Earth falls into.

The chief problem is that of tone.  Just think back to The Invaders Plan: we've got a paramilitary intelligence agency murderin' and torturin' and mutiliatin' with impunity, and then we have the "well the birds liked it!" scene at the Artists' Club.  There's the farcical "where the hells is Lombar?!" bit with Gris stalling Heller by blindly signing papers, unaware that his boss has already left safely, while a couple of chapters earlier Gris murdered a guy by pulling his guts out through a chest wound.  In one part Gris wryly observes how wacky the medical profession is, what with med students earning their degrees by doing their superiors' work, then trying to work off their debt while competing against thousands of their fellow graduates.  A bit later Gris cackles about how the psychologists' use of lobotomies is the perfect solution to so many problems.  In one chapter he throws a sex slave into a cell full of prisoners, in another he hallucinates about Bugs Bunny.

Are we supposed to be laughing or cringing, Hubbard?  Is this a very black comedy, or are we not meant to take all this rape and murder seriously?  I can understand the need for "comic relief," but the extreme variation in the story's tone can cause severe Mood Whiplash.  It's why there weren't, to my knowledge, any slapstick scenes in Schindler's List

The introduction is no help - it seems to like the Menippean style best as one of its earliest examples, Lucian's True History, is also an astoundingly old work of science fiction.  It also credits satire with helping pave the way for modern science fiction like Gulliver's Travels, which was simultaneously vehicles for social criticism.  So it's tempting to label Mission Earth a Menippean satire, since it is a huge-ass novel, has multiple viewpoint characters, and a narrative that is less than completely linear.  But The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy can deftly weave together multiple viewpoints within a single chapter for the sake of comedy, to elaborate a bit more on the setting, or both, while Mission Earth spends seven and a half books with Gris, gives us an interlude with Monte, switches to Heller, gives us another book's worth of Madison, and then bounces from Heller to Lombar to Madison to Monte as needed in the finale.  Hitchhiker's narrative is fragmented because time travel and weirder stuff is going on, Mission Earth is fragmented because of the limitations of its point-of-view characters, an awkward framing device in the form of Monte Pennwell, and plot problems.

It occurs to me that trying to figure out what brand of satire Mission Earth belongs to is like trying to decide which hospital ward to assign a patient with third-degree burns, missing limbs, cancer, and syphilis.  Maybe we should pull back a bit and ask an easier question - does Mission Earth count as satire in the first place?

It wants to be satire, it's certainly got caricatures in it.  There's Delbert John Rockecenter, a thinly-veiled take on the oil tycoon (and philanthropist) John Davison Rockefeller.  There's... Lombar Hisst could be a stand-in for J. Edgar Hoover, I g- no, no, Hoover's already mentioned by name.  And J. Warbler Madman is a parody of... well.  Maybe it's a general caricature, a non-specific "things suck" kind of satire?  There's your stock Corrupt Politicians, run-of-the-mill Mob Bosses, dime-a-dozen Quack Doctors, and so on, a parade of flat characters you've seen a million times.  And how about the "music" kids are listening to these days?  Bunch of screaming and sex, am I right?

But other than the fact that it's set on Earth, at a time contemporary with or adjacent to its publication date, what about Mission Earth is different from Battlefield Earth's bits about the Psychlos and Catrists?  Battlefield Earth credits psychology for the Psychlos' transformation into an evil empire, but the Catrists never appear "on-screen," only in a few chapters providing background information long after the Psychlos have ceased to be a threat.  Mission Earth blatantly and repeatedly blames psychology for all of Earth's problems.  So it's more satirical to abandon subtlety and allegory?  Or is Mission Earth a satire because it also contains "funny" bits alongside the author's rants about the mental health profession?  Maybe that's what separates Mission Earth from the likes of the Unabomber Manifesto, it tries to be informative and entertaining.

Wait, maybe not.  If the point of satire is to use humor, regardless of whether it's gentle or harsh, to ridicule society's issues, Mission Earth's funny bits ought to be connected to its social commentary.  Except the books' "humor" tends to be slapstick, focused on hurting Gris, or uncomfortable.  We've had Gris tripping on skateboards, Heller humiliating a police chief by smearing spaghetti on his face, Twoey's love of pigs, and ugly French women.  But when the great psychiatry-PR-oil triumvirate of evil is shown in the story, it doesn't seem to be (intentionally) humorous.  You might take stuff like Rockecenter spying on his female employee's bathroom visits to see if they're pregnant as toilet humor, har har, but I read it as a sign of his insanity not meant to entertain (or God forbid, titillate).

One could argue that the bad guys' evil is exaggerated for humorous effect, and this is what makes the story satire.  The problem with this is that there's no indication that Hubbard thinks he is exaggerating.

For example, psycholochiatrists in Mission Earth like to get people committed to insane asylums for little reason, have sex with their patients either as part of their "treatment" plan or by convincing them to be sluts, and are quick to kill people with electroshock or lobotomies.  A dark satire of real-life psychology, right?  But in a confidential memo from 1966 (I found on Wikiquote), Hubbard states

A psychiatrist today has the power to (1) take a fancy to a woman (2) lead her to take wild treatment as a joke (3) drug and shock her to temporary insanity (4) incarnate [sic] her (5) use her sexually (6) sterilize her to prevent conception (7) kill her by a brain operation to prevent disclosure. And all with no fear of reprisal. Yet it is rape and murder…

Or how about the revelation that Nazis are apparently behind everything, and pushed psychology as a way to eliminate undesirables and wipe out foes they couldn't crush on the battlefield?  Surely that's a satire of Godwin's Law or something?  As it turns out, Hubbard believed in something called the "Tenyaka Memorial," not to be confused with the Tanaka Memorial, and he blamed attacks on Scientology as "the work of a Nazi network operating through drug companies, banks and the psychiatric profession, and aimed at conquering the world."  Boy does that sound familiar.

If Mission Earth is a satire, it's an unbelievably shallow one.  It's like if I believed Mexican Jew-lizards were secretly ruling the world, and made repeated documented statements to that effect, and then wrote a book about spies who fight Zionist reptiles in Guadalajara.  With gratuitous, thoroughly uncomfortable sex scenes.

Then what makes good satire?

Allow me to sing my praises of Sir Terry Pratchett once more.  His Discworld series is noteworthy not just for the wit and wordplay, or the memorable characters, but how the setting it used to jest at contemporary events in a fantastic setting, while the setting itself feels legitimate.  It's a send-up of a genre that's also used to tell stories that reflect our own world.  It's got a lot of things going for it, well-crafted elements that stand in sharp contrast to Mission Earth.

Discworld is, famously, a fantasy universe that works.  Granted, there are some strange rules governing it and supernatural entities meddling with it - the Theory of Narrative Causality is a known force that all but guarantees a third son will succeed at a quest his two elder brothers failed at, and the Grim Reaper is a major recurring character -  but it's a setting that can stand on its own even when its author isn't using it to slyly poke fun at something.  It's fantastic but comprehensible, and often recognizable.

Voltar does not work.  It suffers the same problem as the Psychlo Empire did in Battlefield Earth - the Apparatus is so bleak, vicious, cruel, and thunderously stupid that its existence beggars belief.  Even outside this conspiracy, the place is a nightmare - a corrupt authoritarian government, quack physicians who are preferable to the deranged doctors reassembling patients into horrifying shapes, a mindlessly expansionist military with a taste for animal husbandry, a gossiping press that prints what their masters want them to rather than perform any sort of journalistic oversight, debt courts that execute people passing counterfeit bills, and on and on and on.

It's almost a comically grimdark exaggeration along the lines of Warhammer 40,000's setting, except Voltar isn't the object of Hubbard's "satire" in these books, Earth is.  Indeed, he seems to think Voltar to be far superior to Earth society, and its only negative aspects were imported from Earth.  Of course, Hubbard's portrayal of Earth is remarkably similar to how I just described Voltar, which effectively means he's satirizing something by comparing it to a mirror.

Does a satirical setting need to "work?"  It helps if it does.  If you're trying to nudge society down a certain path, it's beneficial to prove that you know where this new road goes, and why it's superior to the alternative.  Or if you're working through something like the Discworld, which is impossible for us to imitate fully, the fact that you're able to construct a functional society helps prove that you know what makes a society function, and therefore have an eye to spot problems and dysfunctions.  Even if you're writing something like Swift's "A Modest Proposal," and don't really intend people to follow your advice (in this case to solve the problem of the poor by eating them), you need to display an understanding of the flawed society - Swift both used popular arguments and rhetoric of the day to support his "solution," and "scoffed" at more practical alternatives than cannibalism.

Another trait of successful satire is for the work to be applicable, relevant, even if you're working through an indirect allegory.  The Discworld, as mentioned before, is notably different from the world we live in, yet the stories set on it have parallels to so much of our own history.  The Omnian Quisition in Small Gods is obviously based on the Spanish Inquisition, but you can see elements of many fundamentalist religions in it, and the story's core theme, that of a repressive church eclipsing the god it supposedly worships, can be applied just about anywhere.  The background conflict of Jingo is a dispute over a suddenly-appearing island similar to the one over Graham Island, but works equally well as a parable for the Falklands Conflict, the First Gulf War, or even realist politics in general, which "force" nations to go to war over territory neither particularly needs, but can't afford to let the other have lest it give their potential rival an advantage in some future conflict.  The Truth has shades of the Watergate scandal, but the points it makes about journalism are hardly limited to the Nixon Administration.  Discworld dwarfs play up the stock stunties of fantasy literature, but have a notably Jewish flavor to them, as well as elements of conservative Islam.  And so on and so forth.

How can we apply Mission Earth?  Oddly enough, I'd say it's simultaneously too general and too specific.  The story's core message, that Nazi psychologist drug-pushing oil magnates are ruining the world and need to be stopped, is about as relevant as my cautionary tale about Mexican Jew-lizards.  The main figure being satirized, Rockefeller/Rockecenter, had been dead for forty-odd years by the time the book was published.  The stuff we can recognize as elements from the world we live in, the corrupt politicians and sensationalist reporters and the like, aren't native to any particular setting.  Partisan presses and yellow journalism are older than respectable reporting, and crooked senators are as old as representative politics.  The sad thing is that very rarely, the story does have a borderline satirical moment or two, like that instance when Gris reflects on the medical field, but Mission Earth's potential wry social commentary is always buried under the author's rants about psychology.  Or the rape.  Or the underage sex.

A fundamental problem with Mission Earth as a work of satire is that the author doesn't live on the same planet as the rest of us.  Hubbard is trying to satirize American society, except there was nothing remotely normal about his life at the time he was writing the book.  This is the man who spent years sailing around the world in order to flee his legal problems, booted from country to country once the locals got tired of him.  He's a man who spent his final few years in the States in hiding, a man with a network of sycophants and cronies who viewed him as a messianic figure.  This is not the clearest lens through which to view our society to begin with, but then we throw in Hubbard's delusions about Nazis and psychiatry that end up forming the plot of his story.  So at best, Hubbard can make general statements like "boy, modern music sure sucks" and "politicians are in the pockets of corporate interests," satirical observations that were as true when he was a boy as they were when he wrote Mission Earth, and are issues that his story neither focuses on or resolves by the end of the book.

A third key aspect of satire is that it's funny or entertaining, either in a silly Horatian way or a caustic Juvenalian manner.  I think this blog has argued that Mission Earth is only funny by accident, and entertaining in a manner similar to a train wreck.

So to wrap up this meandering ramble, is Mission Earth a satire?  About as much as it's a decent science-fiction tale, or love story, or spy drama.

Back to Hubbard the Scientist

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hubbard the Scientist

You don't have to be a scientist to write science fiction.  It helps if you're trying to write plausible, realistic, "hard" sci-fi, of course.  But if you're doing "soft" sci-fi, where the laser swords and space fighters could be swapped out with magical swords and dragons without greatly impacting the story, having a firm grasp of physics or electronics isn't important.  Sometimes it's easier to tell a tale if you don't have to spend pages explaining the details behind the setting, and I've noticed that "hard" science fiction can read more like a technical paper than fiction.  The titular Ringworld was the real star of that book, not the humans or aliens in it - I can't even remember any characters' names.

Unfortunately, Mission Earth is no space opera.  We can't convert it into the tale of Sir Jettero of Manco, a noble knight serving the Kingdom of Voltar who is reluctantly forced to play spy as he infiltrates the corrupt Republic of Merica... even though that's pretty much exactly what happens.  Er.

Let me rephrase that.  The story might work as "soft" sci-fi or fantasy, or at least work as well as it already does, which is not well at all.  The problem is twofold.

First, Hubbard wants to change the world, and is trying to speak from a position of authority so that we recognize his wisdom and alter our lives in the way he proscribes.  Now, books don't have to be "hard" sci-fi to have a message or be effective.  Star Wars, or at least the original trilogy, is a beloved space fantasy because it hits on so many classic elements of storytelling and presents them in an engaging way.  Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings are fantasy series that show how love and friendship can overcome the greatest of evils.  But these are general virtues, applicable anywhere.  If you want to solve a specific society's problems at a particular point in history, you don't need to drape your message in too much allegory, and it'd be good to show that you understand that society and its problems - especially if you expect some of those problems to be solved through science.  In this case, presenting your prescriptions through "hard" sci-fi will be more effective than using a space fantasy.

More importantly, Hubbard is trying to be a scientist.  He disdains the laziness of fantasy and its magic swords whose wielders automatically know how to use, and wants to tell us how his marvelous devices function.  He has his characters give chapter-long descriptions of how faster-than-light space travel or black holes work.  And they are some of the most hilarious parts in the story, as it quickly becomes obvious that Hubbard understands physics and astronomy about as well as he understands... well, anything else. 

Let's take black holes.  Hubbard treats them sort of like naturally-occurring nuclear reactors, in that they emit electricity and have a small chance of catastrophically exploding, as opposed to being phenomena that consume everything nearby and which will eventually evaporate (and explode) at a date bigger than the current age of the universe.  Also, they're apparently magnetic whirlpools rather than supermassive spatial distortions.

He's latched on to the idea of time dilation, but completely misunderstands it.  In regular physics, as you approach a black hole's event horizon, space-time is stretched so that to an outside observer time seems to slow.  You, the fearless space explorer, wouldn't notice anything strange during your approach, but once your curiosity was satisfied and you returned from poking at the singularity with your space stick, you'd find that your trip took more time than it strictly should have to travel that distance.  Black holes are then a form of one-way time travel, though of course the same is true of all gravity wells, just not to as dramatic an extent.  If you want to squeeze a few more nanoseconds out of your life, move to the mountains, sneer down at all those peasants on the coast.

In Hubbard physics, black holes apparently have a second event horizon beyond the all-consuming "point of no return" that characterizes singularities.  Getting within a certain distance of the little buggers somehow shunts you all at once into another timeframe x minutes into the future.  So if it's noon when I travel to Palace City, which famously has a little captive black hole hidden in a neighboring mountain, while I'm in the capital it's 12:13, and if I stay for thirteen minutes and leave, I come out at 12:13.  

Except it's not that simple.  Somehow this time distortion removes the area around a Hubbard black hole from reality, so that an outside observer at noon looking at Palace City wouldn't see it as it was at 11:47 am, they'd instead see some discolored fog.  This makes about as much sense as being unable to see into a neighboring time zone - wooo, the clocks over there are different, they must be in another dimension!  This is presented as the ultimate defense because any attackers would have nothing to target, and while ground traffic, air traffic, communications, and a breathable atmosphere are able to make the transition without problems, any hostile missiles or lasers would just get confused and hit the nothing.

Then there's Hubbard's ideas about space travel, those wonderful Will-be Was engines, as described in Part 12, Chapter 4.  Science fiction authors who don't want boring, years-long voyages between worlds have devised a number of ways to break the universal speed limit and allow for faster-than-light travel - folding space to decrease the distance between you and your destination, slipping into another dimension without such speed limits, reducing your spaceship's mass so that it "falls" through space absurdly fast, and so forth.  But Hubbard needn't bother which such parlor tricks, because he lays out a completely different understanding of the universe.  Time is a physical force that determines where objects will be, but can nevertheless be tricked by artificial masses into propelling a starship many times the speed of light.  It is also subordinate to the power of life, which is able to slow or warp time to its will, which makes sense because life precedes the physical universe it inhabits.

With such major head-scratchers, it's easy to overlook the little things, like air not being "matter."  If you're gonna start something you call "the science of science," it might help to understand that gas is one of several states of matter.  But the author's astonishing ignorance aside, I rather like his fumblings with black holes and space travel.  Once the aspirin kicks in they're entertainingly dumb, unlike the rest of Mission Earth, which is either unentertaining or horrifying.  Even if none of his efforts are really necessary.

All that stuff about the black hole's timeshift shielding the galactic empire's capital?  Why not make it a force field?  The book already has tractor beams, just weave a bunch of them to make a dome to block those enemy missiles, like how Heller was able to gather up a ginormous clump of loose ice particles from the rings of Saturn.  Will-be Was engines?  Have Tug One be an experimental ship with prototype engines much faster but much less stable than the ones in active service.  Black hole power plant?  Use a bigger version of the asphalt-eating engines used in Heller's cars, or maybe some orbital mirror to focus solar energy in an obscenely cost-effective manner.

I can think of a number of explanations for these odd sci-fi decisions, the simplest of which is that the author just didn't know what he was talking about.  You could try to argue that science has come a long way since Hubbard started writing science fiction, but I'm pretty sure when Einstein and others were unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos, they weren't suggesting that black holes were doorways leading a set time into the future, which was an inaccessible parallel dimension.  Another theory is that Hubbard wanted to do something different with black holes and space travel, and so consciously wrote something no other science fiction author had come up with because it made no sense and was kinda dumb.

Or maybe Hubbard's peculiar notions of how the universe worked were distorting conventional science into what we see in Mission Earth.  francoistremblay pointed out that the bizarre lecture about Life and Time at the start of Book Two is pretty much Scientology canon.  Give a religious fundamentalist a high school physics textbook and you might get something similar to Hubbard's scrawlings - I think I remember a Chick Tract where Jesus was the strong nuclear force holding atoms together or something. (editor's note from the future: "Big Daddy" is mostly anti-evolution, but there are a few panels about particle physics - what we call "gluons" are actually Jesus holding a bunch of protons together)

Whatever the reason, it's not enough for Hubbard to not understand the "science" in "science fiction," he also has to botch the "fiction" part as well.  By this I mean he fails to understand how his science, no matter how bizarre, fits into the fictional world he's building.

Take Blueflash, for example.  This is of course the magical light that causes anyone who sees it to drop unconscious, with a convenient memory loss that makes it perfect for covert landings on alien planets.  I think we see it used once or twice when Tug One makes its trips to the East Coast, and then Heller uses it to rescue his sister.  That is it.  You might think such a technology would be extraordinarily useful for law enforcement, able to incapacitate entire mobs of people to be easily taken into custody, but we certainly don't hear about it being used to keep the Confederacy from going up in flames in Book Ten.  The Blueflash would also revolutionize warfare, allowing armies with it to effortlessly capture or cut the throats of their helpless foes.  Soldiers would probably end up wearing special helmets with lenses to block or dilute its effects, and combat engineers like Heller would wear such "sunglasses" as second nature.  Yet we never see the Blueflash used in combat, or see soldiers with countermeasures for it.

Another example is Voltar's modern alchemy, how power plants are able to convert chunks of lead into gold in a way that produces more energy than it consumes.  The result is that gold's price is kept artificially high by power companies preferring to work with less weighty elements, but the stuff is still so common and easy to produce that "skimming off a few ingots" would be easy to put down to "wear and tear."  Gris is able to buy some for ten credits a pound, or .625 credits an ounce.  Madison explains near the start of Book Nine that the exchange rate is about 20 credits to a dollar, so Gris was buying gold on Voltar for something like 3 cents an ounce.  Today the going rate for gold was $1,305.40 an ounce.  But despite being demoted to an industrial by-product, gold remains the metal of wealth and taste in Voltarian society.  Expensive aircars and mansions are slathered with it, it's woven into fabrics for the rich and powerful, pirates and criminals like Gris continue to drool over it, Voltarian paper currency is made to resemble it, and people in general share the author's preoccupation with the shiny yellow rocks.

Or hey, what about those "time-sights," the temporal telescopes used to look into the future and avoid smashing into planets while traveling at faster-than-light speed?  For some reason these are used only as navigational systems, and not embedded in any high-target government building to spot any attackers a day before they come.  The Voltarian police doesn't aim them at their crime logs and have a dedicated unit for tracking down and arresting criminals before their deeds come to pass.  The Emperor of the Confederacy doesn't have a gem-encrusted, ancestral time-sight that he uses to bring additional foresight into his decision-making process.  The most creative Hubbard gets with this astonishing device is having Heller use one to cheat the stock market as a way to get rich.  What, he couldn't adapt that "command isolation geometry" that lets him figure out the physical location of a planet's ruler to an equation that helps him find where da money at? 

And then there's the long list of technology that the heroes, and only the heroes, get to use.  Heller's luxury tugboat has an absorbo-coat stealth system and holographic projector that he uses to destroy particularly stupid enemies without having to fire a weapon.  The supremely paranoid Lombar Hisst naturally does not put an absorbo-coat on his personal flying cannon, and the only other time we see holograms used is for entertainment purposes, not military.  While other soldiers are killing each other the hard way, Heller's shooting bombs that make scary noises that cause entire armies to rout, and much like the Blueflash example these soldiers aren't wearing any helmets designed to counter this potentially devastating nonlethal weapon.

Most egregious of all is the bloody hypno-helmet.  The Apparatus, that sinister paramilitary organization trying to take control of the government, uses them for language trainingAnd also to randomly turn a captured mob hitman into Gris' personal super-assassin, as a sort of surprise present, only for the guy to get taken out by a housecat.  And yet despite having this technology, the entire plot revolves around the Apparatus trying to take control of key officials through drugs, hatching an elaborate scheme to smuggle in alien substances and get the right people dependent on them, rather than grabbing someone for an hour, slapping a shiny hat on him, and programming him to vote for Lombar.  It's Krak, not the book's (designated) villains, who uses them to fullest effect, to hypnotize Gris into doing what she wants, and then unleashing them upon her Earthly foes. You could defend this by pointing out how that back-alley "head plumber" Gris visited was able to figure out he'd be hypnotized, so unlike everything else discussed there are evidently countermeasures for hypno-helmets, but surely reducing the ruling council to a bunch of sickly drug addicts is even less subtle?  If you want to tell a story about using drugs to take control of a government, don't introduce technology that renders the drugs obsolete!

I can't even begin to list all those one-shot devices Heller stored in his rectum over the course of the story.  So many patches or smelly sprays that force their victims to take off their clothes, or say "yes" to the next question asked, or run away in fear, or chase after a piece of fabric.  Are they microchips wrapped in fabric, able to send a specific impulse into the victim's brain, regardless of species?  Scents proven to evoke a specific effect in the majority of noses in the galaxy?

So little effort is spend explaining how they work, or even setting up the devices in the narrative, that they belong in their own "comic relief" category.  Unlike the big stuff like the black holes' time distortion, these doodads aren't relevant to the greater plot, and are used roughly once apiece to defuse a situation, usually in a way that humiliates the victims.  Hur hur, the big bad police inspector we're supposed to hate ran away with his tail between his legs.  I think these may be homages to James Bond's gadgets that he always finds a way to use over the course of his mission, just done bass akwards - Q's gizmos are shown and explained in a dedicated sequence, and logically used when a situation requires them.  Heller's gadgets appear without warning and could be used more or less interchangeably - there's not a big difference between making hostile police chase a cat with a patch of fabric tied to its collar and causing them to run away from a scary piece of paper.  The kicker is that these miracle patches are rendered completely redundant by existing technology, but Heller decided not to carry his scary bombs those days, I suppose.

At any rate, the most we see of other characters using this bizarre technology is mention of off-screen blackmailing thanks to the "take off all your clothes" patch.  But surely the "answer yes to the next question" fabric would have been useful for Lombar?  "Hey Your Majesty, hold this.  Oh, can I rule the empire in your stead?"

So the science in Mission Earth is shoddy and misused by the culture that invented it.  But there's another role science can play in fiction - a means of inspiring the audience.

If you write well enough, and make a flight to the moon sound feasible, your government may be more willing to fund this "NASA" thing people are proposing.  And heck, in the How William Shatner Changed the World special, Martin Cooper of Motorola credits Star Trek's tricorders with inspiring him to invent the cellphone.  So maybe no matter how unfeasible Mission Earth's technology is now, someday we too could live in a world with... pieces of fabric that make us chase cats, I dunno.  More to the point, Hubbard is writing about how science can be used to save the environment from ourselves, so we should be using the technology he describes to do so.

There's a couple of problems, though.  First, as mentioned previously, Hubbard is not operating under our understanding of physics or chemistry.  Second, the "save the environment" message in Mission Earth is buried deep beneath a heavy coating of "psychology/psychiatry is evil," which is what the author is really interested in discussing.  As a result, the potential environmental applications of Hubbard!science are both afterthoughts and pretty erroneous.

Take, for instance, Hubbard's warnings about climate change.  Somehow greenhouse gasses are causing, or at least coinciding with, the shifting of Earth's magnetic poles.  And it is not the extremes in latitude and angle of solar radiation that keeps the Earth's poles cold, but those magnetic poles being under solid land rather than the ocean - if they should wander out over water, why, the ice caps will melt and flood the whole planet!  Even assuming this was accurate, his solution to this problem is for the book's hero to fly out to Saturn in his souped-up spaceship, lasso tons of ice with his tractor beam, and throw it at our planet and hit the Arctic at just the right angle to create a gyroscope effect in the core to shift the (magnetic) South Pole back into position.  Not terribly feasible at the moment, but maybe we could come close by setting off enough nukes?

Or there's the other big problem with Earth, all that pollution and greenhouse gas trapping heat in the atmosphere.  Hubbard has a combination of solutions for this: harness a black hole in a tractor beam to zap unlimited electricity into our power network, use an alien carburetor to convert any waste material into go-juice for our vehicles, and unleash a horde of "spores" into the atmosphere to eat the pollution, and only the pollution, and certainly never mutate and consume the planet's biomass, or form a new layer of debris once they run out of food and die.  At least the problem in this case is real, but the solutions are again untenable.  He might as well suggest we hire a wizard to transmute greenhouse gasses into perfumed breezes, enchant our cars to roll on their own, and build golems to walk on treadmills for unlimited clean energy.

In short, and in conclusion, Hubbard pretty much fails in every way it's possible for a science fiction author to fail.  He doesn't understand science, he can't write fiction, and he's not moving society forward with his ideas.  You can't even say that his tale of blastguns and spaceships is fun escapism, because the sci-fi parts of the story are dragged down by the author's "satire" of the society you'd be trying to escape from, not that the story was any fun to begin with.

But as I said, the extent to which Hubbard fails at science forms some of the only entertainment in Mission Earth, so God bless him for trying.

Back to Hubbard the Sexual Creature

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hubbard the Sexual Creature

Having discussed Mission Earth and sex (noun), we might as well move on to Mission Earth and sex (verb).  This will not be fun.

There's considerable overlap between this topic and the previous one, and for one simple reason: Mission Earth's female characters are largely defined through sex (the verb).  Take away Krak the wife and Babe Corleone the mother figure, and we're left with Hightee Heller on one end of the Madonna-whore spectrum and the rest of the female cast piled on the other.  Pinchy and Candy, Twa and Cun, Bildirjin and Teenie, Tayl and Simmons, all want sex and they want it now. 

Now, is this in itself bad?  Of course not, women are allowed to have sex drives, and sex can be something natural and positive rather than shameful and corrupting.  The real problem is twofold.

First, the male cast members aren't treated the same way (with some exceptions I'll get to in a second).  Heller has sex with Krak, but off-screen - if just off screen, so that we and those eavesdropping guards get to hear it - and aside from that instance in Book One he's busy saving the day and crap.  Izzy and "Twoey" seem asexual.  Aside from that incident during his coronation Lombar Hisst was too focused on taking over the Confederacy to worry about getting any, and fortunately Crobe was more interested in (bleeping) minds than anything else.  Bang-Bang, a character literally named for his sex drive, nevertheless manages to keep his exploits off-screen and play a big part in the story thanks to his other skills.  Gris is a weird case in that he seems to alternate between a misanthropic dumbass spy and a horndog depending on certain chapters - he didn't come to Turkey seeking out sex, but jumped at the chance to own a belly dancer, and likewise the only time he sought to get laid it was his revenge-rape against Candy and Pinchy, so his sex drive is situational and opportunistic.  Men just seem to have much better control over their libidos than those slatternly females.

The second problem is that Mission Earth's women are sexual creatures, and little else.  Yes, Miss Simmons managed to be a laughable obstacle to Heller's progress before her brain-scrambling, and Candy and Pinchy have jobs working for Rockecenter.  But by and large, a female's role in the story is to have sex.  Cun and Twa are otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of Madison's crew, save for the fact that they want to jump his bones.  Candy and Pinchy's role as another arbitrary obstacle for Gris is greatly overshadowed by the chapters spent romping around their bedroom, and more than that their sex lives are what causes them to be obstacles or plot-relevant in the first place.  And then there are all those nameless female extras who get hauled in for a single sex scene, whether in New York or Gris' Month of Limo Rape in Turkey.

In short, men get to have character and have sex.  Women, with a few exceptions, are in the story to have sex with those men.

That said, this rule only applies to straight men.  If you've read this far it shouldn't surprise you that Mission Earth is a teensie bit homophobic.  Gay men are presented as wretched sexual deviants, either slobbering old perverts like Lord Endow, lisping, blubbering wimps like Oh Dear and Twolah, or painted transvestites like Har, all of them promiscuous enough to sleep with any stranger who shows up on their bed.  That last trait is of course shared by the books' women, and so the net result is to turn gay men into women - you can either be straight and masculine, or gay and feminine.  I'm not sure what else I could add to this point beyond a hope that the late 1980's wasn't this bad when it came to depictions of homosexuals.

What's interesting is the book's take on lesbians.  If homosexual males are perverts, Hubbard's lesbians are in a whole separate category.  Candy and Pinchy's pre-rape sex romps were nothing less than misandric torture sessions with cheese graters and Tabasco sauce, followed by... well, we never see it, but apparently all lesbians have figured out to do is a bunch of "biting and scratching and smearing lipstick," with no clue of how to actually pleasure each other, especially when compared to the wonders of heterosexual intercourse.  The overall impression is that lesbians are vicious, but confused, and all it takes is a good dicking to set Candy and Pinchy straight.  That torture must have been their way of dealing with their sexual frustration, and sure enough they stay out of the bondage and sadomasochistic stuff after Gris cures them.  Yes, even when it comes to sex, women are reliant on men to find fulfillment.

And then there's, well, a bunch of stuff.  Statutory rape galore, or if that offends you, a lot of regular rape.  That big underage gay orgy in Book Nine.  Thankfully off-screen instances of bestiality.  Unfortunately not off-screen instances of necrophilia, though at least Hubbard had the decency to have Gris look away.  And in all categories, there's far more of the deviant sex than what you strictly need to establish that Hubbard!Earth is a twisted place... except, of course, that just as much happens on Voltar, rendering the comparison meaningless.

What it does do, however, is add more and more cases to our dataset, so at the end of Mission Earth we're left with a mere handful of examples of sex being portrayed as something natural and mutually-satisfying, buried underneath a ton of sex acts portrayed as deviant based on the author's homophobia, those Gris Sex Therapy chapters that are portrayed positively but are fundamentally twisted, and then even more sex acts that are legitimately deviant, if not outright criminal, but at least the author has the decency to portray them as such, if not the decency to cut them out of the book. 

The moral of the story is that just because a book has a bunch of sex in it doesn't make it sex-positive.

The perennial question is what Hubbard was thinking when he wrote this garbage, and why he thought it should go in his story.  Again, it's either excessive if it's intended to be satirical social commentary, or else doesn't work because the same acts are carried out on both wonderful Voltar and degenerate Earth.  And as I think I've said before, the actual sex falls into a strange category where it's too explicit for non-porn, but not explicit enough to qualify as erotica.  And what does a necrophiliac hitman bring to what's supposedly a humorous satire of modern society, anyway?  What did Gris' Lesbian Deprogramming Class have to do with the plot?  Did Teenie need to be in middle school to get all those young clerks on her side?

Sex in Mission Earth is by and large something ugly and offensive, and yet the author decided to jam as much of it into the book as possible, so it's hard not to conclude that he's just a big ol' pervert himself.  An unfair slander?  According to one of Mission Earth's ghost editors, Hubbard's unpublished writings included drawings of human genitalia.  Maybe they were tasteful artistic exercises, but call me a cynic.

The follow-up question is then, "okay, fine, the author liked to write about underage sex and raping lesbians straight - but so what?  People can write what they want, and if you don't like it, don't read it.  Or what, are you gonna lock up Piers Anthony next?"  And that's a valid answer, I suppose (though Anthony isn't nearly as bad as Hubbard, and at least he admits to being a dirty old man).  If the underage sex, rape, or worse in Mission Earth does push your buttons, good for you - at least you're not seeking such stimulation in real life.  But if you're an author trying to write something that will transform society with your insightful observations on what's wrong with it and your groundbreaking suggestions on how to fix those flaws, you might not want to cram in unnecessary sex stuff that narrows your book's appeal.

As for me, I'm keeping the content warnings on this blog. (editor's note from the future: or moving the most explicit quotes to the Uncensored blog)

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