Tag Archives: Galaxy Press

Review: “Battlefield Earth” by L. Rob Hubbard

Title: Battlefield Earth
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2001

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Battlefield Earth? Isn’t that that movie that always tops the lists for the worst movies of all time?” Yes. Yes it is. It also happens to be a novel, which comes recommended by quite a few people including Neil Gaiman. Was it weird? Yes. Beyond a doubt one of the odder novels I’ve ever read, in a number of categories. But it was also strangely entertaining. For the record, I received a free copy for review purposes from Galaxy Press.

In the 1980s, Earth was invaded by the Psychlo Empire. Humanity was mostly exterminated, the few survivors retreating to the hills and other inaccessible locations. So long as they didn’t make trouble for the Psychlo’s mining operations they were mostly ignored aside from the occasional sport-hunting expedition, and over the next millennium human society slowly devolved back to the primitive. Now, as the year 3000 dawns, events are set in motion that will forever destroy this status quo. Terl, the greedy head of security for the Earth-based mining corporation, has hatched a scheme to make himself one of the wealthiest monsters on Psychlo when he makes it back home. This scheme, however, hinges on the obedience of captured human Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. But Tyler has his own plans, and they mostly involve kicking the Pschlos off his planet and making sure they never return….

On the one hand, Hubbard’s pulp pedigree is on full display here, offering a massive yet delightfully-readable adventure. On the other hand, this gets weird fast. The book clocks in at over a thousand pages, but it takes just over four hundred to reclaim the Earth. Then comes the hard part: preparing for the inevitable counterstrike from Psychlo. Hold onto your seat for a thrilling journey featuring such topics as diplomacy, vengeance, political scheming, and intergalactic finance! What, that doesn’t sound all that entertaining? You’d be surprised, actually. A lot of the time you just have to focus on the subplot at hand, shutting off that voice in the back of your head that is persistently asking what the heck this has to do with anything–it all makes sense by the end, I promise. Despite its reputation, the book didn’t involve nearly as much Scientology craziness as I’d expected–if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might miss it entirely. On the other hand, referring to the field of Psychology as “an ancient cult” is about as subtle as a brick in the face. The characters are all pretty two-dimensional, but that’s honestly to be expected. This is a return to the pulps, after all, albeit on a grander scale. The names are ridiculous, but I think that was intentional. The science is surprisingly sound, from what I can gather. In short, this is a ridiculously amusing ride…if you can lift it.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo. Some violence, including the gruesome aftermath of a torture session.

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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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Review: “Under The Black Ensign” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Under The Black Ensign
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2008

There’s something refreshing about reading classic pulp fiction. All pretentiousness and pretense of literary ambition is stripped away, and the story stands revealed in it’s sole purpose–to entertain the reader, to transport him or her to distant lands and other ages. Some swear by “literature,” citing themes and hidden meaning and looking down their noses at what they deem inferior, the publishing ghettos of “genre fiction.” Perhaps I’ve reacted a bit against that, but genre fiction is my bread and butter. I read because I love a good story, and if that story involves spaceships or elves or in this case pirates, so much the better. I’ll leave the Great American Novel to someone else–give me a good sci-fi classic.

Hmmm….that was supposed to be an introduction for the book, not a rant. Whoops. Anyway, L. Ron Hubbard was apparently the reigning king of the pulps back in the golden age of pulp fiction. Galaxy Press is re-releasing a bunch of his old golden age stories, usually with the original cover art.* This is the third such volume I’ve read, and there is a consistent degree of quality here. It’s not great literature by any means, but who cares? It’s incredibly fun, and as I noted above, that’s why I read. This particular volume I won through the Goodreads FirstReads program, in exchange for an honest review. This changes nothing in my review, except to ensure that it exists and in this case to move it up my reading queue when one of their editors asked when they could expect to see this go up. Always nice to see them take an interest….I have to admit a couple misconceptions on my part going into this book. My only context for the word “ensign” is as a naval rank. Thus, the title Under The Black Ensign to me implied that the main character would find himself serving under a pirate captain with an incredibly odd nom de guerre. Instead, I learned that an ensign is the technical term for the flag flown by a sailing ship to denote it’s nationality. Pirates typically flew a black flag with a skull (the “Jolly Roger” of fame), and thus the title.

Tom Bristol is not the mutinous type. Even after he has been press-ganged out of a tavern while on shore leave from his berth as second mate on a Maryland merchant ship and into service as a deck hand on a British man-o’-war, he works diligently if resentfully. But when a random accident sees him strapped to the main mast for a lethal dose of the lash just in time for an attack by pirates, Bristol gladly turns coat and joins them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go a whole lot better, and he is soon forced to kill a mutinous fellow sailor in self defense after rebuffing his recruiting efforts. The punishment for such an offense is simple and unbending–marooning on a barren island, with no hope of rescue….

Like I said above, this was incredibly fun. It was also fairly short–the story itself clocks in at only 84 pages, with the rest of the book filled out by an introductory essay on the golden age of the pulps, a closing biographical essay on L. Ron Hubbard, and a preview of the next volume in the collection. I didn’t read these extras, since I’d read the two essays before when reviewing Gunman’s Tally and I don’t do samples of books. The story manages to be engaging despite never really leaving you in doubt as to the final outcome of the tale, but in all honesty that’s what you sign up for when you pick up most of the classic pulps.

CONTENT: No profanity. No real sexual content or innuendo, aside from a female character remarking that her fate with the pirates wouldn’t have been pretty if they’d realized she was a woman. Plenty of violence, but nothing too disturbing.

*Not in this case, since this story wasn’t the cover attraction to the August 1935 issue of Five Novels Monthly. It might get a bit confusing for readers buying this pirate story if the original cover art was attached, given that the story the art was intended to sell was a western….I’m not sure where this cover art came from.

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Review: “Dead Men Kill” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Dead Men Kill
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I rarely make use of audiobooks. Not for any particular hatred of the format, just because they are rarely convenient for me. Nevertheless, I recently found myself with a two-hour solitary car trip. How to fill the time? Surf from one FM classic & current hits station to another, switching every time they cut to commercials?* Maybe in other circumstances I would have done that, but I happened to have a two-hour audiobook sitting here awaiting my purview. And so it was that I marathoned the audiobook version L. Ron Hubbard’s one-and-only zombie** story, Dead Men Kill. In the interest of full disclosure, I received my copy through the Goodreads FirstReads program. This in no way influences my review except to ensure its existence.

Some dismiss so-called “pulp fiction” out of hand, but I have found the little I’ve read to be highly entertaining. If you care to, you can read my brief defense of the subgenre in my review of the last Hubbard book I reviewed, the pulp western Gunman’s Tally. We join our protagonist, Detective Terry Lane, as the city is swept by a wave of high-profile murders in which the only clues point to men recently dead and buried. As bodies pile up and the media calls for his resignation, Lane is forced to consider the impossible….could it be that Dead Men Kill?

This particular audiobook was an unabridged full-cast recording, and I have to say that the effect was pretty impressive. It was occasionally awkward, what with *character voice* “Dialogue” *narrator voice* “he said….” or one bit where the villain ends his monologue with a maniacal giggle, treating us to the full effect before the narrator describes him giggling. I’m not saying it needed to happen otherwise, just that it was a bit awkward and jarring for a moment here and there. Across the board, however, the production succeeded admirably. The whole thing is played for maximum effect, playing up the inherent qualities of pulp detective fiction by matching the overly-melodramatic writing with over-the-top voice acting by a talented cast. R.F. Daley’s narrator manages to deliver Hubbard’s melodramatic prose with a grim enthusiasm that perfectly sets the tone of the production. He is joined by Matt Scott as the square-jawed detective, Jennifer Aspen as the damsel in distress (though a stronger female character than some would give the era credit for), John Mariano as the villain, and Jim Meskimen as most of the background cast. It is a credit to the production that the exaggerated Palpatine-esque voice Mariano uses fits perfectly, which is important as it keeps you from identifying the villain’s true identity before you’re supposed to–at least by the sound of his voice, but we’ll discuss that in a moment.

If you can set aside your inner critic and just allow yourself to have a good time, this is a very fun way to spend two hours. As you may have gathered from my commentary on the audio side of the production, everything about the book is delightfully over-the-top. You’re not going to find any grand truths about the nature of human existence here, but you will find a couple hours of pure delightful escapism. The one downside for lovers of suspense is that the mystery of the villain’s true identity is incredibly easy to guess, due to the narrator’s noting otherwise-inconsequential details early in the story. If you are paying attention and have any familiarity with the genre, you know who the villain will turn out to be–he’s the only one that makes logical sense, though they never really explain why he has it out for Detective Lane outside of purely professional concerns. You may doubt your conclusions as the story progresses, but at the end you will be congratulating yourself on one-upping the author. I personally prefer congratulating the author for pulling a fast one on me, but that’s okay. It doesn’t substantially detract from the experience, so far as I’m concerned.

CONTENT: Some violence, not overly gory but still a bit disturbing due to the overwhelmingly over-the-top nature of the narration and prose. I don’t recall any language, which isn’t surprising given the publishing standards of the pulps. No real sexual content, just some mild flirting and an embarrassingly-objectified (not to mention smitten) description of a woman on a character’s first meeting her.

*Yes, I do this. I can’t stand radio commercials and will change the channel every time I run into them. I turned off the radio yesterday because every bloody one of my presets was playing a commercial…..
**Let me clarify real quick before you get your hopes up–these are Haitian Voodoo zombies, not Romero/Walking Dead zombies. Sorry for the confusion.

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Review: “Gunman’s Tally” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Gunman’s Tally
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2013

I won my copy of Gunman’s Tally through the Goodreads Firstreads program. The only effect this has on my review is that it ensures its existence.

It is my well-documented and firmly-held belief that a work of fiction does not have to hold some deeper meaning to be worth the time spent reading it–the job of every novel I pick up is first and foremost to entertain me, all other purposes come after. (Obviously this doesn’t hold true for informational or nonfiction works, although making the reading experience enjoyable there too would be a good thing.) So while some would dismiss those tales that came out of the “Golden Age of the Pulps” as worthless drivel, I consider them endless entertainment. Some of them are poorly written crap, of course, but even our enlightened age produced Twilight, so I think we have no room to judge. Anyway, Galaxy Press is publishing a series reprinting all of L. Ron Hubbard’s stories from that Golden Age spanning a vast variety of genres.

This volume consists of the main story, Gunman’s Tally, (about 70 pages) as well as the shorter Ruin At Rio Piedras (about 30 pages,) plus two essays on Hubbard and the Golden Age of the Pulps that I suspect grace each volume in the series. In Gunman’s Tally, greedy cattle baron George Barton tries to obtain Easy Bill Gates’ fertile Las Pinas ranch the cheap way–with lead. It’s cheaper to hire a gunslinger to kill Bill’s brother than to just offer a fair price for the land. But when Bill kills the gunhand in a blind rage, he gains a reputation and paints a target on his back. Now every gunhand in the territory–or that Barton can lure into the territory–is going to be trying to make a name for himself by challenging Gates….. Ruin At Rio Piedras I really can’t summarize without giving it away, so let’s just say it pits a loyal but disfavored cowhand against rustlers and his boss’s disloyal favorite.

Gunman’s Tally was an engaging tale, and well constructed. I did see the slight twist at the end coming, but that was more to do with my longtime reading habits than Hubbard giving it away. Ruin At Rio Piedras was not quite as good, but that’s why it’s the backup story. I will certainly look to read more of these collections whenever I can find them.

Content: mild language, a bit of violence, but nothing too disturbing.

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