Battlefield Earth, L. Ron Hubbard, and Scientology
Battlefield Earth. One of my favorite sci-fi novels. I just re-read it recently after about 20 years.
But it’s complicated.
As soon as you say “Battlefield Earth,” immediately people start screaming about one or more related topics, such as
WTF? Battlefield Earth? Uh, Caleb, that was one of the worst movies ever made! Why the hell would you read the book???
Battlefield Earth? That’s L. Ron Hubbard, isn’t it? Isn’t that the weirdo cult guy that made Tom Cruise jump up and down on that couch?
Battlefield Earth? That’s a bunch of Scientology bullshit! Why are you reading that crap? Are you a fucking Scientologist?
So, a little background.
If you didn’t already know, L. Ron Hubbard is a famous science fiction writer who is also infamous for creating Scientology, that very strange religious-like cult in Hollywood that believes in things like spirits from outer space and anti-psychology. Guys like Tom Cruise and John Travolta are devout members.
Scientology is a total crock of shit. It’s a cult in the truest sense of the word, with all kinds of bizarre rituals and rules and strange beliefs. I’ve read a lot of stuff regarding Scientology and seen many videos on YouTube made by Leah Remini, an actress who left Scientology and outed them on much of their weird shit.
L. Ron Hubbard (who has been dead for many years) was also a pretty extreme weirdo. Absolutely true.
I pretty much agree with anyone attacking Scientology or L. Ron Hubbard as a religious leader. It’s all a bunch of crazy bullshit and you’ll get no argument with me on any of that.
The problem comes when people attack L. Ron Hubbard as a science fiction writer. It seems like most of the time, people hear his name and immediately associate it with Scientology, then make some crack about him being just a “shitty science fiction writer.”
But he’s not a shitty science fiction writer. He’s an extremely good science fiction writer. He’s not perfect nor are his books, but his books are really, really good. He puts a lot of thought and analysis into them and his pacing is fantastic. Reading some of his books is like watching an Indiana Jones movie; they’re that entertaining. When the books are funny, they’re pretty funny. When they’re scary, they’re scary. (He wrote a horror novel called Fear which I read and thought was okay, but other famous writers like Harlan Ellison said it was a classic.)
People need to separate the sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard from the weirdo cult leader L. Ron Hubbard. Just because someone is weird or a liar doesn’t mean he can’t write good fiction. He certainly can. I think Scientology is a scam and complete crap, yet I’ve read lots of L. Ron Hubbard books over the years and I’ve really liked almost all of them.
Now we get to Battlefield Earth, which is probably his most famous book (though Final Blackout and the Mission Earth series are pretty well-known too).
When you say “Battlefield Earth,” most people pretty much puke and immediately refer to the 2000 movie of the same name starring John Travolta. This movie is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and for good reason. Both the setting and the plot make absolutely no sense (just like in these embarrassing new Star Wars movies). Almost the entire movie is filmed at annoying Dutch angles for no reason. The acting is dreadful. The characters are not only irritating, but so amazingly stupid it’s stunning to behold. The special effects suck balls. The colors are ugly. And so on.
Yep, the movie totally sucks, and not even in a “so bad its good” way.
Just one problem. The movie has nothing to do with the book. Oh, it takes the general premise of the book (Earth has been taken over by powerful aliens and mankind has been reduced to a caveman-like status) but that’s about it. It warps the entire story, the setting, and all the characters into something completely unrecognizable from what’s actually written in the book.
I had the misfortune of watching this turd at the movie theater when it came out back in 2000. Although the commercials concerned me because of the radical change in the aliens’ appearance (in the book, they’re totally inhuman, nine-foot tall apelike creatures who have faces covered by face masks; in the movie, they look like Klingons), I was still very excited to see one of my favorite books of all time in movie form.
Then I sat for two hours in a state of abject horror at how they had changed pretty much everything in the book, turning a very cool book into a movie that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. The movie went down in history as one of the worst ever made, it pretty much destroyed John Travolta’s career, and it permanently tarnished the reputation of the book.
According to interviews with people who made the movie, the head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscaviage, someone with zero movie-making experience, called the director and other folks making the movie on a daily basis during shooting, constantly barking orders and demanding changes, which the movie crew obeyed. Thus, this turd of a movie was born.
Miscaviage later denied all of this to Tom Cruise, blaming John Travolta for the horrible film. Ah, Scientology.
With all that background, let me talk about Battlefield Earth the book. This is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read in my life. It’s full of action, sci-fi, fun, humor, business, politics, finance, science (though sometimes flawed science), and devious characters. It really is the book equivalent of watching an Indiana Jones movie. The first half of the book is better than the second half, but the second half is still a lot of fun.
The premise is that 1000 years ago, Earth was invaded and quickly conquered by giant, apelike, inhuman aliens called Psychlos (stupid name, I know). Today, corporate Psychlos on Earth mine it for materials and teleport them back home. Humans are barely seen and little known, relegated to near-caveman status, living in remote, inhospitable regions.
One Psychlo named Terl comes up with a complicated scheme to rip off his company by secretly mining and smuggling gold back to his home planet. He captures a young human man named Tyler, setting off a chain of events where things get really crazy. I can’t talk about much more without spoiling everything (this is a very hard book to describe without huge spoilers).
It’s not a perfect book, since no book is perfect. Most of the science is very well-researched and accurate, but some of it is bullshit (like a “radioactive sun”). The characters are really fun, but are pretty two-dimensional for the most part. There are parts of the book that sag a little towards the middle (and this is a 1000+ page book).
But those are honestly the only bad things. If you like really fun and interesting science fiction, I highly recommend you forget everything you’ve heard about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, do NOT watch the movie (or try to forget the fucking thing if you’ve seen it before) and read this book.
I’m a fantasy guy so I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but what little sci-fi I read I make sure is really good. Battlefield Earth is really good. Get it and read it. You’ll thank me unless you’re really picky.
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