I think Hubbard peaked in 1939-1940, which makes it a damn shame that he kept writing for decades after that point. Before that period we have Buckskin Brigades, historical fiction that tries to get back at evil white settlers for crimes they hadn't committed by the time the story was set, as well as forgettable pulp stuff like Under the Black Ensign. After that period we have more forgettable pulp stuff such as "Space Can" and "The Slaver," then Ole Doc Methuselah and all its warning signs, before Hubbard goes completely off the deep end and excretes Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth at the end of his career and his life.
But in that narrow window, there is... well, there's Final Blackout and its boring tale of a bland military hero handily winning every engagement and building a enlightened dictatorship. But there's also those rare few Hubbard stories that aren't entirely incompetent and have parts that actually work. It helps of course that a story that doesn't collapse under its plot problems or unlikable characters counts as a success for Hubbard, but there are chapters of Fear that I legitimately enjoyed, and Slaves of Sleep worked pretty well as a fantasy romp. And now here's this story.
Typewriter in the Sky was published in the November and December 1940 issues of Unknown Fantasy Fiction, which I suppose would make it the last entry of Hubbard's Not Terrible Period, at least among the titles covered for this blog. It's not a normal pulp story, even if it's pretty pulpy. It has fantastic elements in it, but it's not a real fantasy story. It's not billed as some satirical epic like Mission Earth, but it has some wry observations and insightful yet humorous commentary to make. Instead, it's a lot of different things Hubbard's done over his career, but done in moderation. It's also a very metafictional tale, a story about stories in general and its own story in particular, and the whole process of storytelling.
There's not much to say about the cover other than that I'd do it a little differently. We've got someone in a swashbucklery outfit with a rapier and pistol in hand, flanked by majestic ships of the line, but he's stepping out of some sort of portal showing modern metropolis in the background. It's more thematic than accurate to the story, since there's no magic portal involved, but the thing I'd change would be the expression on this swashbuckler's face. He looks... um, the emotion he's expressing is... let's call it stoic determination. But I'd make him look more reluctant, even panicked, clearly unhappy to be where he is. Because in the story - well, we'll see soon enough.
The back cover has the tagline "Enter a Gateway to Another World," which again isn't quite accurate, and a plot summary that I'll ignore so the premise comes as more of a surprise. In the blurbs underneath it, Alan Dean Foster calls it both "a writer's nightmare" and "one of the most influential books in modern fantasy." Kevin J. Anderson... man, he keeps showing up, doesn't he? Well, he thinks it's "A true masterpiece of the genre... an exhilarating romp filled with delightful twists and turns." I'd argue that his book is entertaining, if not really thrilling or exciting. On the other hand, unlike many of Hubbard's works there's some real suspense over how or even if the main character can get out of the predicament he's in.
Another plot summary on the inside book jacket flap that I'll ignore, a section about "Master Storyteller" L. Ron Hubbard on the right flap, and wow that's a goofy picture of a young Hubbard in a hat and sunglasses with a somewhat confused smirk on his face. Kevin J. Anderson with the Introduction again, talking about how he'd been busy doing all these books when a publisher asked him to do a foreword, he agreed that he might be able to work it into his schedule, only to instantly like Typewriter in the Sky when he started reading it in the bath. Have to say, my experience was somewhat similar - right at the start I knew I wasn't in for a typical Hubbard story, and was actually interested in what was going to happen when I turned the page.
Anderson also talks how Typewriter in the Sky - actually, Anderson quotes someone else talking about Typewriter in the Sky, excuse me. Anyway, the claim is that the book "anticipates plot gimmicks now popular among experimental metafictionists," which I didn't know was a real word. Now, I'm reluctant to give Hubbard any credit for doing anything good just on principle, but if this is true, we can only wonder what sort of new frontiers in literature he might have developed if he hadn't decided to keep doing pulp crap and eventually come up with alternative sources of revenue.
Also, Anderson calls Hubbard "indeed a writer," and talks about how prolific the guy was and puts him in a category with Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, and Alexandre Dumas, all "classic authors who wrote quickly and in first-draft form." Which pretty much confirms what I've concluded a long time ago about Hubbard being unwilling or unable to give his stuff a once-over or revise anything.
But there you have it, a cursory look at Typewriter in the Sky that's hopefully piqued your curiosity. Tune in next time to see what all the fuss is about.