Review: “Orders Is Orders” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Orders Is Orders
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2009

Once more I find myself reviewing one of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp stories from the Golden Age! Thanks to Galaxy Press and the Goodreads FirstReads program for getting me the book in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on the substance of this review except to ensure its existence. Well, okay, it also moved up my queue when one of Galaxy’s marketing people sent me an email asking when they could expect to see it, but that’s the extent of the meddling I promise! It’s always nice to see the publisher taking an interest in readers’ opinions.

I’ve ranted before about the disrespect pulp fiction often gets, and I’m not going to do it again here. Short version: there’s nothing wrong with stories that exist solely for the entertainment of the reader. This isn’t high literature or the next Great American Novel, and you know that when you pick it up. This is adventure and danger and good triumphing over evil in the end. The prose will be a bit on the lurid, overly-dramatic side, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s par for the course. Don’t like it? Go read something else. I find it refreshing on occasion.

The time is 1937. Imperial Japan has launched a full-scale invasion of China, intent on exploiting their resources for the glory of the Emperor. (Curious? Here’s the Wikipedia article on the war.) The Chinese are being beaten back with heavy casualties, and the United States is unwilling to get involved, but there’s a problem: the American embassy in Shunkien is under siege. More accurately, Shunkien is under siege, and without food and antibiotics to combat the cholera outbreak cropping up in the city all of the Americans hiding inside will die. Two hundred miles and multiple armies stand between the USS Miami and Shunkien. The United States is unwilling to go to war. Nevertheless, orders are to get the supplies and medicine to the beleaguered embassy. And so we join Sergeant James Mitchell and PFC “Toughey” Spivits as they attempt to make the treacherous overland supply run through innumerable obstacles. Can Mitchell and Toughey make it two hundred miles with the supplies before the besieged city falls to the Japanese? Pick up the book and see for yourself! It’s a tale of courage, temptation, unexpected meetings and unflinching determination. It’s also darn good fun.

Like I said, this was fun. It’s kind of odd, sitting here in 2014, to see history through the eyes of those to whom it was current events. This story was published in December 1937, a full four years before Pearl Harbor woke the sleeping giant of the United States and pitted its wrath against the might of Imperial Japan. You get no sense of that impending conflict here, but the underlying tensions between the powers do exist. This is a time and place not often explored in fiction, at least so far as I’ve seen. I’m not saying this is a scholarly piece, by any means, but as a history major it is interesting to see the world through this lens for a little while. The characters are stock, but no less interesting for all that. You know as soon as they describe Mitchell as having a drinking problem that this character flaw will play a role in the story. You know as soon as the mission and deadline are given that our heroes will arrive at the eleventh hour through great feats of derring-do and/or cunning evasion of the enemy. You know as soon as you meet her that the abandoned American girl they encounter will end up warming to Mitchell. That predictability doesn’t negate the fun to be had in the journey. It’s what you sign up for when you pick up pulp fiction. It comes with the territory. I was minorly annoyed at the negative portrayal of the missionary character, but I know Hubbard is no fan of Christians and so it came as no surprise. The cover art has nothing to really do with the story, but that’s okay. They couldn’t use the original art since Orders Is Orders wasn’t the headline tale when it was first published. It looks like that honor went to a dueling tale. Oh well, no matter.

CONTENT: Mild language, more than many publications of the era would have allowed. Not gratuitous by any means, but not as tame as the other stories from the same period I’ve reviewed. Some violence, given the setting. There’s talk of a character being a fan dancer, but no real sexual content.

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