Sunday, January 26, 2014

SciFi Classic Review: Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard

Battlefield EarthBattlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adventure, social and economic exploration, revolution, a true David vs. Goliath tale.

I was staring at this book on my shelf the other day and thought to myself, "I need to review this." This is one of those stories that I've read several times and often think about, even when I'm not actively reading it. As such, I'm writing this review cold (having not read this in recent months) but am pretty sure I can do so well.

Battlefield Earth takes place hundreds of years in the future after a militant race of aliens takes over the planet to mine its vast mineral resources. Jonnie Goodboy Tyler and his bedraggled village live beyond the attention of the aliens and have done so for generations. They never stray far, fearing the monsters that have been passed down in the verbal histories. But Jonnie isn't satisfied with their lot. He sees his people getting sick with a strange illness and dying, his own father joining them. He sees them suffering and wants better for them, especially for Chrissie, the girl he adores. So he decides to leave and find a better place for his village, despite the protests of the villagers. This begins the first tale, where Jonnie sets out to find adventure and a better place only to encounter the sadistic aliens that destroyed his world for profit.

From there, the story becomes one of quiet revolution, as Jonnie is forced to help one of the Psychlos mine a uranium tainted gold deposit (because radiation ignites Psychlo breathe gas). His captor makes the mistake of giving Jonnie lessons from a machine that downloads information into the mind, supplementing Jonnie's already solid intellect with the information he can use to rise against the Psychlos. This part of the story is exciting and always reminds me of that old show where the prisoners run an underground spy network right under the noses of their captors. Like that show, Jonnie and those he gathers with him steadily gain a measure of control over their lives, unknown to the Psychlo, and plot to end the Psychlo reign over their world.

And this leads to the third part of the book. One would think once you've kicked out the aliens, all is done, but that's just not the case with Battlefield Earth. Instead, it's just the beginning. As the newly freed humans find and incorporate the far flung pockets of humanity that remain, political tensions rise between those that follow Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (capitalists) and those that follow Brown Limper Staffor (communists). This part of the story is ironic to say the least and disheartening as well. That hate and bias could survive an alien apocalypse is rather sad. Anyway, Jonnie and his crew manage just fine, even as Brown Limper tries his best to undermine them. All this occurs in the year following their uprising against the Psychlos. The whole time, they have no idea if the end of the year will bring with it the end of their hard-fought, and possibly short-lived, freedom.

And then we get to the other aliens. The part of the book reveals that the Psychlos, while nasty and prolific, are not the only aliens in the universe, not even the most powerful aliens at that. A mysterious gray man begins making appearances at various locations around the world. When one old woman he meets gives him a coin bearing Jonnie Goodboy Tyler's image and name, the man knows he's found the one he needs. Not to go into too much detail, this part of the book is more intellectual than prior parts. Still there is the intrigue, the plotting and the mystery, but the focus is economic in nature. Here we find out exactly what the human revolt accomplished and also discover how small the earth is in the grand scheme of things. We also learn the identity of the most powerful beings in the universe.

All of this being said, Battlefield Earth is a massive book, but it's divided into four complete, yet interconnected tales. The hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, is charismatic and smart. He accomplishes the impossible with the aid of his team, but does not feel like the hero everyone makes him out to be. Not only is this an adventure with some incredible climaxes sprinkled throughout, it's a social and economic commentary. One could probably stop reading at the end of the second part and come away satisfied that good triumphs over evil, but some really interesting content would be missed.

For those who watched the movie, it only covers parts one and two, probably because those were much more translatable to the big screen. Still, as someone who's read the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie on its own merits. I think they cast it well, and though the way the mining team is selected and gathered is completely different (and not at all as entertaining or as impressive as the method in the book), it is otherwise pretty close. I loved seeing my favorite action scenes acted out.

Overall, I loved Battlefield Earth, even the parts that go a bit social/economic. It makes me think about where we're going as a society. And the plausible, though unlikely, scenario of aliens eradicating us to mine our planet still brings chills. It reminds me that we are truly a speck in the universe. We have no idea what, or who, is out there, and if they are out there, we could be nothing more than stock or an infestation to be eliminated or used as they see fit.

I highly recommend this book to those who love sci fi and adventure, particularly those who like stories to carry a deeper meaning. This is a long book, but it is broken down well and one could simply read the first two halves for the adventure and come away satisfied (but I recommend the whole thing).

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