Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - Healing a Doctor

Hubbard faced a lot of obstacles when it came to writing a good story.  He was trying to write science fiction without understanding science, and trying to write about people when all the evidence suggests that he only fully comprehended the most negative of emotions and motivations.  His plot twists were never really clever, and if he had an original idea, chances were it was something like monsters who explode around radioactive particles, or Teenie.

That said, his premises aren't entirely without merit, and I've already mused how an editor or more competent writer could salvage even things like Mission Earth.  So let's wheel Ole Doc Methuselah into the operating room and see how we could keep him out of the morgue.  Which is a metaphor that falls apart when the author names the hero-doctor's spaceship the Morgue.  Hrm.

Anyway, isn't it strange what little effect Ole Doc being Ole Doc has on these stories?  The key component of this character - or at least his name - is that he's centuries old, but that never really seems to matter.  When he's doctoring he's more reliant on super-advanced gizmos and magical healing salves to cure patients than his long medical career.  The exception would be "Plague" when he's able to identify a mysterious illness because one of his first cases as a doctor was to help a woman with measles, but that wouldn't have been necessary if his Universal Medical Society had kept better records.  I suppose one could argue that Ole Doc's age helps to sell the feats of marksmanship or other action hero stuff we see him perform, except 1) that begs the question of why he needs to be a doctor in the first place and 2) we've seen similar stunts from non-immortal Hubbard protagonists.  Frankly, we could swap Ole Doc out for a regular physician with access to the same medical technology with no real effect on how the stories unfold.

So that's the first thing to change: make Ole Doc's age actually significant beyond how it lets him remember that measles is a thing.  Now as I said, any young physician could play Ole Doc's part in these stories - that's the problem with having a way of storing information in books or computers, it lets people access hundreds of years' worth of knowledge without having to be hundreds of years old themselves.  So instead of having Ole Doc's age impact the plot, how about make it impact his character?

A competent author could use an unnaturally-old character to explore what they think the effect of hundreds of years of continued living would do to a person's mind.  Now, you could play this for a lot of drama, make Ole Doc a grim figure buckling under the weight of centuries, someone who has watched the same problems and tragedies unfold again and again, someone who has seen everyone he ever cared for crumble into dust, someone whose mind is straining to contain more experiences than a mortal man is meant to endure.  But that's not really the kind of light-hearted fiction Hubbard was originally going for.

So instead you could make Ole Doc a bit scatter-brained, someone who can lose track of what day it is, or what century it is.  For someone who has met so many people and been to so many worlds, proper names become unimportant for him: he never refers to other characters by anything but their title or occupation, and doesn't bother to remember a planet's name or what its capital is called.

"But he already does some of that," you might point out.  And that's true, Ole Doc can be forgetful and has trouble getting along with people who don't have a great ass.  But Hubbard has Ole Doc forget to do important things like take his life-extending medicine and fuel up his spaceship, which leads the reader to question how Ole Doc survived so long in the first place, and doesn't make the connection between Ole Doc's treatment of other people and his extreme age.  His Ole Doc doesn't come across as someone trying to handle several lifetimes' worth of experience, he comes across as an improbably-surviving asshole.

The key is to give Ole Doc some characterization that shows why he's continued to do medicine for hundreds of years.  So it wouldn't hurt to make him interested in his fellow humans beyond the Girl of the Week.  He may not be able to remember his patient's name while he's working on them, and probably won't remember them once he gets on his spaceship and leaves, but have Ole Doc engaged with them, getting along with them, interested in who they are and how they're doing.  Show that their lives matter to him.  That slavery in general bothers him, not just the enslavement of a would-be supermodel in particular.  That if a horde of babies are about to be born on a planet with one caretaker, Ole Doc isn't one to walk away from the problem to go fishing.  Show that he's a physician who will teach people to take better care of themselves, not a technician who swoops in with a pharmaceutical ray rod when things get dire and leaves until there's another great emergency.  Or he feels like going fishing.

However, making Ole Doc sympathetic and altruistic crashes headlong into the backstory for Hubbard's Ole Doc stories, the whole Universal Medical Society and its medical monopoly.  If you really want to keep this angle - that there's an elite organization that has decided it is the only group moral enough to properly use advanced medical knowledge, but won't use that knowledge on anything but the greatest medical catastrophes; a group that it is so powerful that it can boss around planetary rulers with impunity, but so dispassionate that it doesn't care if those rulers are murderous tyrants because it doesn't want to get involved in "political" matters - well, this is a premise that would work best in some dystopian fiction, not an allegedly positive pulp story.

Of course, removing this Universal Medical Society does present a problem in itself.  If Ole Doc's doodads and textbooks become available to the masses, what makes him special?  Besides the age thing.  And this is probably why Hubbard came up with the UMS in the first place - since he's not doing anything with Ole Doc's age, and doesn't know enough about medicine to write Ole Doc as a super-doctor, the best he can do to make his hero noteworthy is make everyone else in the galaxy a moron.  The sad fact of the matter is that a galaxy without the Universal Medical Society doesn't need those Soldiers of Light to protect it.

The solution to this problem is to do what Hubbard doesn't and make something out of Ole Doc's age.  So in a UMS-less galaxy, where every local physician has access to ray rods and medical encyclopedias, Ole Doc's advantage is that he doesn't have to spend hours scrolling through computer screens or paging through tomes to know what disease he's looking at.  He may not have a perfect memory, but when he sees someone turning colors and frothing at the mouth, he'll remember the common symptoms of Algolian Flu and brew up a fix in a jiffy.  He many not be able to remember names, but hundreds of years of interacting with patients have given him the people skills to set others at ease in even the worst crises and coordinate a response when everyone's first inclination is to panic.  He may not always be up to date on the newest ray rod model, but he knows how to treat an illness without one, allowing him to act during power outages or in primitive hospitals when his fellow doctors would be helpless.

This talk about Ole Doc's age brings up another issue with these stories, or rather a question: why is Ole Doc one of the few immortals in the universe?  I'm not asking the author to explain the formula or whatever, I'm asking why Ole Doc has kept this revolutionary discovery to himself, even before the formation of the Universal Medical Society and its restrictions on what lesser men are allowed to know about medicine.  Does he have some philosophical reason for keeping it secret, like he thinks society couldn't handle a deathless population?  Does the treatment come with a terrible price, one that he thinks is only justified if he uses his extended existence to save others' lives?  Does he even remember how he came up with the immortality elixir, or was it a happy accident?  Is he still working out the kinks in the formula, still monitoring himself for any potential side-effects until he feels like it's safe to share with everyone else?  Or has he come to hate his condition and is contemptuous of any fools who would wish to join his eternal existence?

A good course of action would be to have the life-extending treatment be part of becoming a Soldier of Light - you get to live potentially forever, but sworn to the service of your fellow man and a life of constant toil.  I suspect this is what Hubbard was going for, but again he never bothers to explain it, and the notion is at odds with all the times we see Ole Doc loafing around or refusing to get involved in some problem or acting on whimsy.  And since I'm against the idea of the Universal Medical Society to begin with, I'd say it's better to have Ole Doc's agelessness be something unique to him and unable to be replicated.  That way we don't have to explain why angry mobs aren't constantly trying to dissect him and figure out what parts they need to eat to gain his immortality power.  Heck, maybe it'd be best if nobody knows Ole Doc is ageless, and he's just some odd drifter who comes in on an old spaceship but turns out to know a ton about medicine.

Only that wouldn't allow Hubbard to shower a protagonist with fame and fortune and gilded luxuries, and by now you know how important that rot is to him.

Finally, there's the matter of Hippocrates.  We know that Ole Doc purchased him at an auction as a medical curiosity, and we know that the alien is probably the only thing keeping Old Doc alive.  We can guess, since Hubbard doesn't properly develop the notion, that Ole Doc likes Hippocrates because the alien is almost as long-lived as he is, so the gypsum lizard-thing serves as a reassuring constant in an always-changing universe.  And we know that Hippocrates is incredibly devoted to his "owner," but we never learn why.  It's only in "the Great Air Monopoly" that Ole Doc shows any real concern or affection for his "slave," so Hippocrates' willingness to put up with Ole Doc's assholery is just plain perplexing.  And then there's Hippocrates' purpose within the narrative: in the stories as written, he's a combination butler and comedic relief character, someone to fuss over Ole Doc and make sure he eats his life-extending miracle drugs, but also whine and recite regulations for hours because that's humorous or something... I didn't say Hippocrates is an effective comedic relief character.

If it were me, I'd drop the "slave" and "butler" angle entirely, and let Ole Doc know how to take care of himself.  Instead, Hippocrates could be a fellow doctor, someone from a similarly long-lived species who wants to see how Ole Doc treats his patients.  And I don't mean Hippocrates wants to learn how to fix a human's broken arm - we can let him keep his perfect recall and have him read all Ole Doc's medical texts for that.  Instead, Hippocrates could be trying to learn about how to deal with patients, how to make some of the hard choices a physician is expected to handle in a crisis.  You could contrast the alien's stuffy, by-the-book approach and lack of diplomacy with Ole Doc's centuries of experience and good ol' country boy heart and soul.  And to keep the exchange from being one-way, maybe Ole Doc could learn things from Hippocrates, like how to use the latest medical gadgets and what's going on in the galaxy.  Since Hippocrates is naturally long-lived, maybe Ole Doc hopes to learn how to handle his own extended lifespan.

So, there's some ideas.  All you'd have to do to fix the "Ole Doc Methuselah" stories is overhaul the two main characters and the tales' basic premise.  And then decide what to do in those stories, since a non-stupid galaxy wouldn't let an author get away with plots like "the bad guys were using ragweed to sell 'air'" or "everyone else forgot what measles was" or "they forgot to check for radiation when visiting a strange planet."  Or in other words, more or less completely start over from the idea of "he's a doctor and immortal and in space." 

Alternatively, you could decide that's too much effort and read a better book about an immortal protagonist.  For example, I think Robert A. Heinlein did some stuff with a fellow named Lazarus Long, who... wow, his mom and his twin opposite-sex clones?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - The Apex of Hubbard's Craft

"Ole Mother Methuselah" came out in January of 1950, and was one of Hubbard's last short stories.  Over the rest of the year and the early part of 1951 he published yarns like "To the Stars," "The Final Enemy" and... "Dianomitry?"  But in the May, 1950, Astounding magazine featured a little essay Hubbard called "Dianetics, the Evolution of a Science."  For the next thirty years, he was occupied with unlocking the financial potential of his own tax-exempt religion, fleeing overseas, and doing battle with the international conspiracy of Nazis and psychologists that secretly controls the world's governments.  It was only after he returned to the United States to live the remaining years of his life in seclusion that Hubbard was able to return to fiction with Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth, before dying in 1986.

Between Buckskin Brigades (1937), Fear (1940), the "Ole Doc Methuselah" stories (1947-1950), Battlefield Earth (1982) and Mission Earth (1985), we've now sampled works from the beginning, middle and end of L. Ron Hubbard's literary career.  One of the questions I had after reading Hubbard's last and most infamous novels was just how far the author had fallen to produce such miserable texts.

The answer: not much.

If I took out the dates and asked you to arrange the Hubbard stories I've covered in my blog(s) in the order you thought they were written, my guess is that it'd be a challenge.  You might think that the two Earth titles were obviously early attempts at writing given how badly they need an editor (and an exorcist), and Fear was probably the last thing the guy wrote since it's the closest to competently-executed.  But Hubbard's ability to spin a story, develop characters, and describe action evidently changed very little over fifty years of writing, and not for the better.

His heroes are physically perfect, either unusually young for their ability or else old and experienced yet outwardly youthful.  They can regularly outfight or outsmart their opponents, unless the plot calls for them to be momentarily inconvenienced.  They're usually blond, because objectively speaking that is the best hair color.  And their opponents are either amoral, self-interested and greedy, or else murderous lunatics who think they're doing the world a favor by destroying it - never sympathetic people whose differing ideals happen to place them at odds with the protagonist.

Confrontations between the hero and villains will be described tersely, and in later Hubbard works, in a barrage of single sentences.  The feats of strength and agility displayed in those confrontations will strain the reader's suspension of disbelief.  Oh, and there might be women in the background, but if they're important this relevance is based on their relationship to a male character, and they exist mainly to be wooed or rescued.  If a female has any traits that suggest an ability to take care of herself or keep up with the hero, these are merely to make her a more suitable mate for the male lead, and won't give her any real agency of her own.

What I'm getting at is that Hubbard's not a particularly good author.  But whatever, right?  Not every book has to be Animal Farm.  Sometimes you just want some cheap literary entertainment during your airplane ride or power outage or while waiting for the AI to finish its turns in Civilization.

Here's the thing, though - Hubbard did think he was writing the next Animal Farm when he gave us Mission Earth.  But he wrote it the same way as his first stories, the ones that were published in the pulps, those cheap magazines that were successful because reading had just been invented in the 1930's and we couldn't get our quota of Stupid from TV yet.  Mission Earth was Hubbard's satirical romantic espionage action epic, Battlefield Earth is a grand space opera or something, Fear was his attempt at psychological horror, but they all share those aforementioned similarities.  Even when he was out of the pulps, Hubbard was still writing pulp fiction, and shortcomings you might excuse as being acceptable for low-brow mass-produced literary escapism become less so in these more ambitious genres. 

I'm almost tempted to flip through Dianetics to see how much of Hubbard's writing style carries over into his attempt at scripture.

So that's one of Hubbard's core problems, an inability to grow and rise to the heights he's reaching for.  The other is that he mainly wrote science fiction, and liked to think that he was helping move science forward by envisioning a future with pharmaceutical ray rods and whatnot.  Unfortunately, this was undermined somewhat by Hubbard understanding science about as well as my cat understands English.  When he mentions specific principles or facts in his stories he either gets them wrong, or in Ole Doc Methuselah's case, has to lower the intelligence of everyone else in the story so that his hero seems smart for knowing basic stuff like radiation's existence.  Ironically, this helps Hubbard stand out - he's not just an old pulp writer who churned out stories about aliens and spaceships, he's one with spectacular misconceptions about how the universe works.

The irony is that there is one genre of literature out there where Hubbard's failings wouldn't necessarily be handicaps.  Oh, he dabbled in horror with Fear, but the "spooky" stuff mostly fell flat, and Buckskin Brigades involved him twisting history as much as he usually twisted science.  But there's a type of story where overpowered heroes are only to be expected as the products of destiny, where villains can literally be the incarnations of ultimate evil, and where incredible powers beyond mortal comprehension can be wielded by a few sages.

I'm talking about fantasy, of course.  Hubbard's science fiction tends to be pretty magical in itself, so I wonder why he didn't decide to write about the old sage Methuselah who wandered through war-torn kingdoms, quietly using his mystic healing arts to save lives and his skill at arms to right wrongs.  It wouldn't be a drastically different story, of course, but maybe it would be more palatable than the universe of morons and tyrannical, elitist physicians we've gone through.

Tragically, ironically, or tragironically, fantasy so happened to be the genre that Hubbard looked down his nose at during the intro for Battlefield Earth, where he scoffed at a hero learning how to use a flaming sword just by picking it up right before telling a story where a hero learned how to operate advanced alien equipment by soaking pure knowledge through his skin.  So we can only wonder.  What if Hubbard tried to write the American equivalent of Lord of the Rings?  Would he have been successful enough to get rich that way instead of setting the stage for Tom Cruise going nuts on Oprah's couch?  Would he be remembered as a hack, a master of his genre, or would he be remembered at all?  If fantasy as a genre would mitigate Hubbard's shortcomings, would he have any strengths to help him rise above mediocrity?

Eh, if he kept his anti-psychologist conspiracy theory, he'd probably write something like the Sword of Truth series.  Though of course those are "stories with important human themes," not fantasy novels.

Enough conjecture, let's wrap these ramblings up.  The Ole Doc Methuselah stories, at least compared to the other Hubbard works I've read, can be considered the apex of the author's craft.  They're what he was able to produce after over a decade of writing popular literature, but before he got a literal cult following that would happily pay him money for the privilege of reading Mission Earth's rape and stupidity and paranoid delusions.  And these stories are still awful.  The main character is unlikable, the plot twists rely on a universe of morons, and the underlying premise, that of an elite, untouchable group who hoards life-saving knowledge but doesn't feel obligated to use it, is deeply troubling.  Though I don't think that's what Hubbard intended for Scientology to be like, since he was interested in getting as many customers as possible.  So there's that as a positive.

The best thing I can say about them is that they aren't as soul-searingly bad as Mission Earth, and I guess they're shorter than Battlefield Earth.  And unlike Buckskin Brigades and Fear, Hubbard is writing in the genre he's at home in.  So there you have it: the Ole Doc Methuselah stories aren't good stories, but they may be the best Hubbard stories.  Which means they're ultimately kind of forgettable, sadly.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - Pulp "Hero"

The odd thing about Hubbard is that, terrible as his writing is, it still encourages you to read.  I've mentioned before that his attempts to put the "science" in sci-fi are so inept that the reader is almost obligated to go learn how things actually work, and at the end of the Ole Doc Methuselah collection, I feel a need to dig up some contemporary pulp sci-fi.  Like, I want to reassure myself that it was possible to tell an entertaining, positive story in those old magazines.  That all those classic heroes weren't as bad as Ole Doc Methuselah.

The idea of some group of supermen roaming around righting wrongs isn't anything new - heck, the Knights of the Round Table probably count - and better authors than Hubbard were writing yarns along those lines before Ole Doc got dragged into his first adventure in 1947.  E. E. "Doc" Smith's first Lensmen stories debuted over a decade earlier, around the time Doc Savage was having his own adventures.  As I said, these are still on my "need to read" list, so I can't tell you much about them that you couldn't find out on your own by reading the Wikipedia summaries.  As I understand it, Doc Savage has the mind of a Renaissance Man in a star athlete's body, someone in the peak of physical condition with the training to act as a detective, inventor, physician, and explorer.  The Lensmen are the result of an alien breeding program, genetically-predisposed to be natural leaders and the heart of a Galactic Patrol, protecting interplanetary civilization with the help of Lenses that give them incredible psychic powers.

Ole Doc Methuselah probably has more in common personally with the former than the latter, though his Soldiers of Light are (theoretically) similar to the Galactic Patrol.  These stories also share some values dissonance as well - Hubbard's stuff is almost casually racist what with those Mongolians in "Her Majesty's Aberration," Doc Savage reformed criminals by getting them brain surgery to fix their undesirable tendencies, and the Lensmen are basically a positive example of eugenics.  I'd say that the works are all sexist to some extent, but the truth is probably more complicated - they were written in more a patriarchal society than the one we live in, but Doc Savage had a cousin who could fight as well as his other companions, and the Lensmen were eventually joined by a Lenswoman who dispelled the belief that ladies couldn't use a Lens because they lacked a killer instinct.  Meanwhile in the Ole Doc stories, the only woman in a position of authority is a mad queen besieged in her prison-palace, who clings to power thanks to some hostages in her basement.  Women are mostly damsels to be rescued or wooed, or simply absent.

The biggest and most important difference between Hubbard's Ole Doc stories and these other pulp superheroes - from what I've been able to learn about them - is what the good guys do with their power.  Doc Savage sounds like an Indiana Jones type, exploring distant lands, fighting empowered villains, busting crimes... well, maybe he has more in common with the Shadow.  Oh hey, same publishers.  Anyway, not every person rolls well enough during character creation to be a Doc Savage, and even his half-dozen recurring super-partners eventually fall by the wayside, so he's really a singular fellow.  But he's got this oath, see.

"Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man."

So while not everybody can be on Doc Savage's level, he's still obligated to look out for them.  Now, I can't find any creed for the Lensmen, but I know that while they're super-elite agents able to accomplish incredible things by themselves and granted the authority to requisition whatever they need to finish their mission., they don't work alone.  The Galactic Patrol they lead is an enormous organization, and has a millions-strong recruitment pool when it comes to selecting new Lensmen.  And the technology they wield, apart from their lens, is the product of humanity at large, not a few super-scientists.

The Soldiers of Light, though?  They're a weird mix between the others, like if Doc Savage and his buddies came up with the first Lenses, but kept them for themselves.  And then when other humans developed their own Lenses and started fighting with the things, Doc Savage and the Fabulous Five (and cousin Pat) stepped in, declared themselves the Galactic Patrol... and confiscated not only every other Lens in existence, but turned back the clock so that all the other scientists in the galaxy would be unable to make them.  And then went around quashing anyone who made motions in that direction.

Doc Savage is one man trying to make the world better as best he can.  The Lensmen are the defenders of Civilization, waging a colossal struggle against an opposing, villainous empire.  The Soldiers of Light are an elite (i.e. laughably small) organization that supposedly patrols multiple galaxies, concerned only with the biggest problems.  If someone's using the medical technology they've claimed a monopoly on, or a plague threatens to spread between galaxies, the Soldiers of Light will step in; otherwise, it's your problem.  And so under their rule, the galaxy slides into barbarism, full of petty tyrants and monarchs and generalissimos, where an alleged empire fails to keep law and order, and democracy and human rights are forgotten concepts.

Just imagine if a bunch of Western physicians, with their advanced training and medical equipment, came to a destitute Third World nation to do some humanitarian work.  They see a local warlord lobbing anthrax around, use their skills to treat and contain the disease, confiscate all the specimens the bad guys were using... and then shut down all the local clinics and hospitals, so that no one would be able to use anthrax again.  And then they patrol the country, ignoring subsequent cholera and Ebola outbreaks as they monitor for biological weapons.  And if another warlord comes along and starts a devastating conflict, so long as he uses conventional weapons, they consider the matter "political" and none of their concern.

We wouldn't call those doctors good guys.  And that's why I consider Ole Doc Methuselah a protagonist, not a hero.

Oh, he ends up saving the day, but look back over the stories.  "Ole Doc Methuselah," he's doing some fishing when a hot girl blunders into him and draws him into some land speculation scheme.  "Her Majesty's Aberration," Ole Doc stops for gas and blunders into a civil war.  "The Expensive Slaves," he's asked "IF CONVENIENT" to check on an unidentified disease and pick up "A FLASK OF MIZAR MUSK IF YOU STOP."  "The Great Air Monopoly," another holiday interrupted by a hot chick.  "Plague," the first time he hears about and responds to a medical emergency on his own.  "A Sound Investment," he solves the mystery of a strange disease outbreak only because it's on the same planet as some estates he's securing for the Universal Medical Society.  "Old Mother Methuselah," he investigates a problem only because it's on a planet with potential fishing holes, and even then he only gets involved when he's attacked by the crisis' perpetrators.

Other stories have wandering "knight errant" types who go from town to town, their sense of justice and heroism compelling them to fight evil and move on once it's vanquished.  There are drifters who aren't looking for trouble but come to stand up to it when pushed.  And then there's Ole Doc, who when presented with a problem will roll his eyes and tell someone else to deal with it, then have his slave fetch the fishing gear. 

But that's still not the worst part about this whole "Soldiers of Light" thing.

The Universal Medical Society's gimmick is that they have decided that they're the only group responsible enough to handle advanced medical technology.  They've got the knowledge, skills and gadgets that ordinary physicians lack.  The problem is... well, the root problem is that Hubbard's not a doctor.  He can't describe the advanced surgeries these super-doctors perform, the best he can do is describe the magical doodads Ole Doc uses to bring people back from the brink of death or restore them to the beauty of their youth.  But having your science hero wave a pharmacy ray rod at problems until they go away isn't terribly compelling, so Hubbard tried to think of medical mysteries to solve that would keep the reader's interest until the reveal at the end of the story.

But as I said, Hubbard isn't a doctor, he only knows the bare basics, like there's a gland called the thyroid and it's important.  Which means that Ole Doc therefore can only demonstrate knowledge of the bare basics.  Which means that the other characters in the story cannot.  Which means that the Universal Medical Society is not just keeping potentially dangerous medical science out of the hands of others, it is going further, creating a universe in which people don't know to check for radiation on alien worlds, don't know how to contain (much less treat) a plague, confuse an allergic reaction with poisonous gases drifting down from outer space, can't perform plastic surgery, and so forth.

Heroes are supposed to solve problems that nobody else can, not take efforts to ensure that others can't help themselves.  And then ignore most of the new problems resulting from those efforts because they aren't quite big enough.  The only reason we can't call the UMS a villainous organization is because they presumably solve more problems than they create... well, no, we can't say that.  Alright, they presumably save more lives than their policies indirectly kill or their agents can't be bothered to save.  Taking care of a plague that could have threatened an entire galaxy earns a lot of karma, right?  Even if the only reason the plague was an issue was because everyone else is too dumb to quarantine a diseased ship.  But surely saving galactic civilization from its own stupidity makes up for all those slaves that go unfreed, all those disease outbreaks that normal physicians can't cure but which aren't big enough to register on the UMS radar, yes?

The funny thing is, there's only six hundred Soldiers of Light, and they patrol multiple galaxies, so you think each individual would have an enormous work load.  Except Ole Doc rarely seems busy.  He's in full-on crisis mode for "Plague," but the rest of the time he's more or less on vacation or having a leisurely, aimless cruise through space.  Compare him to a real doctor, who gets to put in long hours during work days, more hours spent doing charts afterwards, and who may still be on call during the weekend, and... well, you might start to ask, if Ole Doc's got all this free time, why not help out more instead of taking another fishing expedition?  But then, this "Soldier of Light" hasn't made an oath like Doc Savage.  He isn't honor-bound to protect civilization like a Lensman, he's sworn to protect medical science from lesser people.

So yeah, I think I need to visit my friendly local used bookstore and try to find some sci-fi from the 30's or 40's that doesn't make me want to equate "pulp" with "crap."  Wonder if the Lensmen stuff would be worth reviewing in blog posts?  I'm not sure I could call it "sporking" since it can't be as bad as Hubbard's material... hmm.  Getting ahead of myself: first step, get the book, second step, read it, then decide if I'd like to write about it.

And it's not like there aren't any other Hubbard works to properly skewer.