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Battlefield Earth (novel)

Battlefield Earth is a science fiction novel written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in celebration of 50 years as a writer. He also composed a soundtrack to the book called Space Jazz.

The subsequent film adaptation, released in 2000, was a notorious commercial and critical disaster and has been widely criticized as one of the "worst films ever made".

Synopsis

In the year 3000 AD, Earth has been ruled by an alien race, the Psychlos, for a millennium. Humanity has been reduced to a few scattered tribes in isolated parts of the world while the Psychlos strip the planet of its mineral wealth. Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, a young member of one such tribe, lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Depressed over the death and disease affecting his tribe, he leaves his village to explore the lowlands and to disprove the superstitions long held by his people involving ancient gods and monsters. However, he is captured in the ruins of Denver by Terl, the Psychlo chief of security. The Psychlos, hairy high, 1000-pound sociopaths, originate from a planet with an atmosphere very different from that of earth. Their "breathe-gas" explodes on contact with even trace amounts of radioactive metals, such as uranium. For his greediness and incompetent planning, Terl had been assigned to Earth, and he eventually learns that his term has been extended with no word of relief. Fearful at the thought of spending several years on Earth, he decides to buy his way off the planet and return home a wealthy Psychlo. From the very beginning, the reader learns that Terl has discovered a lode of gold up in the Rocky Mountains that he wants to get his hands on "off the company books" but is surrounded by uranium deposits that make Psychlo mining impossible. Terl captures Jonnie by accident while searching for "man-animals" to train to mine where he himself cannot.

After a time, Terl captures Jonnie's girlfriend and her little sister and uses the threat of their deaths to ensure cooperation from Jonnie. Jonnie is afterwards free to move around the mining area. Shortly thereafter, Terl and Jonnie travel to Scotland and recruit 83 Scottish youth to help with the mining. Jonnie, however, has different plans. Due to the fact that Terl does not understand English, Jonnie is able to convince the Scots to help him overthrow the Psychlo rule on Earth.

During the next several months, Jonnie and the Scots try to mine the gold as well as develop a means of defeating not only the Psychlos on Earth, but also nullify the threat of counterattack that could come from Psychlo (the Psychlos' home planet). During the semi-annual teleportation of personnel, goods, and coffins (all dead Psychlos are shipped home for burial) back to Psychlo, Jonnie and the Scots manage to pack several of the huge coffins with nuclear dirty bombs and "planet busters" in hopes of destroying the Psychlos' home planet. After the teleportation firing, the humans use the Psychlos' own war planes, tanks, and weapons against them and regain control of Earth.

This is, however, not the end of the story. Unsure as to whether the bombs sent even reached Psychlo and under the imminent threat of counterattack, Jonnie must now defend his newly-retaken planet against the predatory interests of several other interstellar races, including a race of intergalactic bankers seeking to repossess the Earth in lieu of unpaid debts, as well as a newly-emerging group of humans seeking to wrest control of Earth from him. In order to ensure the security and independence of Humanity, he does something that no other race in 300,000 years has been able to do: uncover the secret of Psychlo mathematics and teleportation.

Publishing history

Initially titled "Man, the Endangered Species", Battlefield Earth was first published in 1982 by St. Martin's Press, though all subsequent reprintings have been by Church of Scientology publishing companies Bridge Publications and Galaxy Press. Written in the style of the pulp fiction era (during which Hubbard began his writing career), the novel is a massive work (over 750 pages in hardcover, 1000+ in paperback). It was Hubbard's first openly science fiction novel since his pulp magazine days of the 1940s, and it was promoted as Hubbard's "return" to science fiction after a long hiatus.

The cover artwork of the original hardcover edition featured an image of hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler which did not coincide with the physical description given in the novel. The subsequent paperback release corrected the cover art, most notably by giving Tyler a beard.

The book was reissued in 2000 with a new cover, in connection with the release of the film version. The book has also been released in audiobook and e-book versions.

According to Nielsen BookScan, Battlefield Earth has sold 29,000 copies between 2001 and 2005.

Critical response

The book received a mixed reception from literary critics and science fiction fans. The Economist, for instance, called Battlefield Earth "an unsubtle saga, atrociously written, windy and out of control" while in the science fiction magazine Analog, Thomas Easton criticized it as "a wish-fulfillment fantasy wholly populated by the most one-dimensional of cardboard characters. Other critics pointed to the book's slipshod writing, such as "the ineffably klutzy destruction of the planet of the evil Psychlos by atomic bombs, which turns it into a "radioactive sun. Punch sarcastically commended Hubbard's "excellent understanding of evil impulses, particularly deviousness, which helps with the plot, and [he] is well-enough aware of his weaknesses not to dwell upon frailties like love, generosity, compassion. David Langford, after criticizing the plot, style and scientific implausibilities, concluded "From this, Battlefield may sound almost worth looking at for its sheer laughable badness. No. It's dreadful and tedious beyond endurance".

Many, however, have chimed in with positive things to say. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction described the book as a "rather good, fast-paced, often fascinating SF adventure yarn." In a 2007 Fox News interview, former US presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pointed to the book as his favorite novel.

Neil Gaiman, the son of English Scientology leader David Gaiman, wrote, "For value for money I have to recommend L. Ron Hubbard's massive Battlefield Earth - over 1000 pages of thrills, spills, vicious aliens, noble humans. Is mankind an endangered species? Will handsome and heroic Jonny Goodboy Tyler win Earth back from the nine-foot-high Psychlos? A tribute to the days of Pulp, I found it un-put-downable. And all for £2.95" Frederik Pohl admits, "I read 'Battlefield Earth' straight through in one sitting although it's immense... I was fascinated by it." Kevin J. Anderson says, "Battlefield Earth is like a 12-hour 'Indiana Jones' marathon. Non-stop and fast-paced. Every chapter has a big bang-up adventure. Publishers Weekly said about the novel, "This has everything: suspense, pathos, politics, war, humor, diplomacy and intergalactic finance..." Science fiction author, A.E. Van Vogt, stated, "Wonderful adventure . . . great characters . . . a masterpiece. but later admitted that he had not actually read it due to its size.

The Church of Scientology's role

Battlefield Earth went to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and also those of the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, United Press International, Associated Press, B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks. According to Hubbard's literary agents, Author Services Inc., by June 1983 the book had sold 150,000 copies and earned $1.5 million.

Not long afterwards, stories emerged of a reported Church of Scientology book-buying campaign mounted to ensure that the book would appear on the bestseller lists. According to newspaper reports, Church representatives promised the publishers that a particular number of copies would be bought by Church subsidiaries (the author and journalist Russell Miller cites a figure of 50,000 hardback copies ).

Local Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists were reportedly also urged to buy copies of the book. Various bookstore chains (including Waldenbooks) have cited examples of Scientologists repeatedly coming into stores and buying armfuls of the book at a time. Several bookstores reported that shipments of the book arrived with the store's own price tags already affixed to them, even before they were unpacked from the shipping boxes, suggesting that copies were being recycled. According to Miller, Scientologists throughout the United States were instructed to go out and buy at least two or three copies each. Gerry Armstrong, who worked in the Church's archives at the time, states that "One of the wealthy Scientologists, by the name of Ellie Bolger, apparently paid a huge amount of money to the organization, which they then disbursed to staff members to go down to B. Dalton or whatever and buy the book." The New York Times reported that "two Scientology organizations bought a total of 30,000 copies of Battlefield Earth at discount directly from the publisher, apparently to sell or to give to current or prospective Scientology members." Booksellers told the newspaper that they had seen unusual purchasing patterns, including individuals buying as many as 800 copies of the book at a time. It was suggested that "church members could be trying to buy themselves a bestseller in order to obtain a large paperback or movie sale, both of which are often contingent on a book's first becoming a bestseller in hard cover. Two months after the reports emerged, Author Services Inc. announced that it had sold the film rights for Battlefield Earth to a Los Angeles production company, though it took another 16 years for the film to be made.

Former Scientologist Bent Corydon has described how pressure was put on the managers of Scientology "missions" - effectively franchises - to promote and purchase Battlefield Earth. At a conference held in San Francisco on October 17, 1982, Scientologist "mission holders" were told by Wendall Reynolds, the Church's International Finance Dictator, to do their bit to make the book a success:

And if you look at it Battlefield Earth has been released on the same pattern as the early 1950s, when LRH

According to Corydon, "we were ordered to sell 1000 copies of Hubbard's recently released science-fiction book Battlefield Earth "before Thursday or I would be kicked out as mission holder." The idea behind the publicity drive was said to be that it "would, in turn, get the Dianetics book selling"; Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health did in fact experience a marked increase in sales subsequently, re-entering the NYT Best Seller list four times in 1986. Battlefield Earth, for its part, sold over 125,000 copies in its first print run and by March 1985 had sold 800,000 paperback copies. .

The biography on the website recently set up to promote "Battlefield Earth" does not mention Hubbard's role in the founding of The Church of Scientology.

Hubbard's role as the founder of Scientology has led to a long-running controversy about whether Battlefield Earth contains Scientology themes, and about the role that the Church of Scientology has played in publishing and promoting the book.

Hubbard himself denied that the book was a vehicle for Scientology. He described his motives for writing as being that "it keeps my hand in, amuses people and whiles away the otherwise idle hour. It's better than playing video games!" He addresses the question directly in the book's introduction, where he says: "Some of my readers may wonder that I did not include my own serious subjects in this book. It was with no thought of dismissal of them. It was just that I put on my professional writer’s hat. I also did not want to give anybody the idea I was doing a press relations job for my other serious works."

Scientology-related themes

During his lifetime, L. Ron Hubbard maintained an opposition to psychiatry, a viewpoint the novel reflects by portraying the Psychlos as being ruled by the Catrists (a word similar to psychiatrist), described as a group of evil charlatans. Those among the Psychlos who do not share the views of the Catrists or oppose them are subjected to various forms of persecution; particularly, the Catrists use surgical mind control in order to maintain their power base. Hubbard frequently claimed in Scientology that psychiatrists used such tactics to maintain their influence and funding. Early in its history, the Psychlo species had no fixed name, instead being named after the Emperor of the day. The word "Psychlo" is revealed to have originally meant "mental patient" in the alien language, signifying that the Catrists feel (or in any case claim) that the entire population requires treatment as mental patients. Scientology portrays modern society as being the battleground for a war between psychiatry and Scientology for the future of humanity.

One supporting character, a Psychlo mathematician named Soth, is described as having been shaped by the views of his mother who was a member of a resistance group, a so-called "church," which held religious meetings secretly, much as the Church of Scientology in the real world, opposes psychiatry.

In one passage of the book, a human doctor recalls a long-ago "cult" called psychology which existed before the Psychlo invasion, but is "forgotten now."

In December 1980, two months after he completed the book, Hubbard told fellow Scientologists that "I was a bit disgusted with the way the psychologists and brain surgeons mess people up so I wrote a fiction story based in part on the consequences that could occur if the shrinks continued to do it."

Space opera tropes are common in Scientology doctrine. Scientology works describe intergalactic battles between alien races and a powerful galactic ruler known as Xenu. Hubbard went as far as to claim that the sub-genre of space opera was merely an unconscious recollection of real events from millions of years ago. He described Earth to Scientologists as being a "prison planet" known as Teegeeack.

Film adaptation

Ever since the book was released, Scientologist and science-fiction fan John Travolta aimed to bring Hubbard's book to the big screen in a series of two movies with himself playing Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, as well as producing. A film was planned to be released in 1983, but due to rising costs and trouble in finding a studio, the project was cancelled. It was finally produced by Franchise Pictures in 2000 as Battlefield Earth: A Saga In The Year 3000. Directed by Roger Christian, it starred Travolta (who felt he was too old to play the hero) as Terl, Barry Pepper as Jonnie Goodboy, and Forrest Whitaker as Ker.

The film opened to nearly universal negative reviews and poor box office returns. Due to word of mouth and Internet buzz, it quickly disappeared from theatre chains. Almost all aspects of the film were criticized: hammy acting by Travolta, the film's overuse of Dutch angles, corny dialogue, and several plot inconsistencies. A sequel, although planned for a 2002 release, was never made. Franchise was later sued and went bankrupt after it emerged that the company had fraudently overstated the film's budget.

Notes

External links

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