Reading the Screen: L. Ron Hubbard — No, Seriously, L. Ron Hubbard
Posted by: David Pitt
This May marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Battlefield Earth, one of my very favorite bad movies. If you haven’t seen it, here are Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper chatting about it:
I agree with everything they say about the movie, but I still love it, the same way I love Plan 9 from Outer Space or The Adventures of Pluto Nash: it’s awful, but it’s a special, wonderful kind of awful.
I’m sure you know all about the controversy surrounding Hubbard, but maybe you don’t know this: in the 1930s and ’40s, he was a first-rate pulp-fiction writer. And some of his science fiction stories were as good as anything you’d see from Heinlein, Asimov, or Pohl.
Battlefield Earth is based on Hubbard’s mammoth 1982 novel of the same name. The book is full of provocative ideas, although the plot is pretty straightforward: in the far future, humans rise up against their alien oppressers. Hubbard’s writing isn’t up to the level of his pulp-fiction days, but, the story is imaginative, and you’re sort of pulled through the book, almost without realizing you’re flipping the pages.
Battlefield Earth could have made a great science fiction film, if someone had stripped the novel of everything but its great ideas and given it compelling characters, passable dialogue, and some sense of visual splendor. I keep wondering what, say, James Cameron might have done with this material.
Anyway, I know it’s got an awful reputation in literary circles (mostly for reasons having nothing to do with its literary quality), but you should read Battlefield Earth. It’s not Hubbard’s best work, but it is a lot of fun.
For a taste of Hubbard’s best work, you could check out what he was doing back in the 1930s and ’40s, when he was making a living as a pulp-fiction writer. I talked about L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction in an article last year; it’ll steer you toward some really fine adventure stories.