Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fear - Specifically Ophidiophobia?

Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth were created way late in Hubbard's career, and the latter wasn't even fully in print before he left the planet to share his genius with the rest of the universe.  They were written when he could type with his buttcheeks and produce a bestseller, as he had a horde of devoted customers who were literally willing to buy his books repeatedly in order to make them successful.  Hubbard may or may not have been aware of this, which could have contributed to the whole "I never make mistakes and don't need an editor" conceit he had going on by the end of his life.  At any rate, it's no great mystery why Hubbard's last works make such great sporking material - he had no incentive to write a decent book, assuming he even had the ability.

But what about earlier in his career, before Scientology?  Was there ever a time Hubbard produced good books?  And could a guy who eventually argued that the space opera genre represented the inherited memories of a pre-human civilization write something other than science fiction?  It was with these questions in mind that I picked up Fear.

Fear was written in 1940, eight years before the first draft of Dianetics, and according to the editors,  Robert Heinlein claimed that Hubbard wrote it over the course of a train ride from New York to Seattle.  By the end of the story I think you'll find this a reasonable claim.  The story's Foreword assures us that authors from Isaac Asimov ("Of all L. Ron Hubbard's stories, this is my favorite") to Ray Bradbury ("A true Scare!") have sung their praises of it, and Stephen King is quoted as calling it "a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror."  Personally, I'm having problems elevating Hubbard to the ranks of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, but maybe I'm approaching this work from the wrong angle.

Luckily the editors are nice enough to explain what makes Fear so "powerful," and that's "because it really could happen.  And that is terrifying."

Scary stuff, right?  Well, I should probably mention the one-sentence synopsis on the back of the book:

The terrifying tale of a man who loses four hours of his life and begins to go mad as he tries to remember what happened.

Try not to make any hangover-related jokes, okay?

Also, check out that front cover, which would look better on the side of a van than the cover of a horror story.  The title barely legible in lurid yellow-green outline text.  A dude trying to keep his hat as he's gobbled up by a giant serpent-dragon, also outlined in yellow.  A full moon, because wolves howl at them and wolf howls are scary.

That hat at least is relevant to the plot, and I think there might be a moon in there, but the snake is definitely the product of artistic license.  Unless it's supposed to be symbolic of... well, we'll try to figure that out later.

Before we dig in, there's one last warning from our author:

There is one thing which I wish the reader could keep in mind throughout, and that is: this story is wholly logical, for all that will appear to the contrary. It is not a very nice story, nor should it be read alone at midnight - for it is true that any man might have the following happen to him. Even you, today, might lose four hours from your life and follow, then, in the course of James Lowry.
- L. Ron Hubbard

That's right, even if you read it and think to yourself, "none of that made a lick of sense," it was logical despite evidence to the contrary.  So there.

Let's see how many hours we can lose in this, shall we?


  1. What? The giant badass snake that would have made me buy the book expecting it to be all about said snake is "product of artistic license?" What an underhanded, scummy marketing trick. It's not even like the movie food fight, where the big name commercial mascot icons on the front of the box are way bigger than the main characters the movie actually focuses on and the mascots actually get almost no in-movie screentime. It's misleading, but they are still a part of the movie, albeit a much smaller part than you're led to expect. This giant snake is a flat-out LIE! I'm so disappointed right now. If the giant snake isn't in the book, then what is this about? A guy forgetting 4 hours of his life? How do you write a whole book with that premise and keep it interesting? Seeing as this is Hubbard, I'm guessing he fails. Oh, I remember old horror books that should be objectively bad, but somehow sell well, like R.L. Stine. They use cheap author tricks like bait and switch cliffhangers to keep stringing along the reader... and I'm expecting as much from Hubbard. R.L. Stine at least threw in a lot of interesting twist endings, though. I'm suspecting we're in for another overly long and boring third-act denouement ala battlefield earth and mission earth here.

    1. I remember Fear coming up in a lot of the amazon reviews of the mission earth and battlefield earth books. The low star reviews said to go read Fear instead because that was back when Hubgbard was still good, so maybe we're in for a treat?