Pages 1050 (paperback)
Originally published 1982
Genre Science Fiction
Publisher St. Martin's Press
Publication date 1982
Adaptations Battlefield Earth (2000)
Country United States of America
|Media type Print (hardback & paperback)|
Similar L Ron Hubbard books, Space opera books, Other books
In the year AD 3000, Earth has been ruled by an alien race, the Psychlos, for a millennium. The Psychlos were inadvertently led to Earth by one of NASA's deep space satellites. After one thousand years, humanity is an endangered species numbering fewer than 50,000, and reduced to a few tribes in isolated parts of the world, while the Psychlos strip the planet of its mineral wealth. Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, a young warrior of one such tribe, lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Depressed by the death and disease affecting his tribe, due to irradiation by decaying unused nuclear land mines (see Medium Atomic Demolition Munition), he leaves his village to explore the lowlands and to disprove the superstitions long held by his people of monsters in those areas. He is captured in the ruins of Denver by Terl, the Psychlo chief of planetary security.
The Psychlos, hairy 9-foot (2.7 m) tall, 1,000-pound sociopaths, originate from a planet (Planet Psychlo) with an atmosphere very different from that of Earth, with a slightly different table of elements. Their "breathe-gas" explodes on contact with even trace amounts of radioactive metals, such as uranium. The Psychlos have been the dominant species across multiple universes for 100,000 years. It becomes apparent in the later chapters that the Psychlos were originally nonviolent miners but were subjugated by a ruling class to become warlike.
Terl has been assigned to Earth, and his term has been arbitrarily extended by the Planetary Head of the mining operations named Numph. Fearful at the thought of spending several more years on Earth, Terl decides to make himself a millionaire to escape, by secretly mining a lode of gold in the Rocky Mountains. It is surrounded by uranium deposits that make Psychlo mining impossible, so Terl captures Jonnie to mine the gold for him.
After a time, Terl captures Jonnie's childhood love Chrissie and her sister, Jenny, and holds them hostage to ensure Jonnie's continued cooperation. Thereafter, Jonnie is free to move around the mining area. Terl even forces Jonnie to submit to a learning machine that teaches him numerous subjects, including the Psychlo language. Terl and Jonnie travel to Scotland and recruit 83 Scottish youth (including several deliberately selected body doubles for Jonnie), old women, a doctor, and a historian to help with the mining. Jonnie persuades the Scots to help him against the Psychlo rule on Earth. Terl does not understand English, and is instead convinced that the Scots are motivated by a promise of pay on project completion.
While Jonnie and his Scottish allies mine the gold deposit, they also secretly explore the ruins of humanity to look for uranium that can be weaponized for use against their Psychlo oppressors. This subterfuge is aided by the aforementioned body doubles, making it appear to Terl's surveillance that the mining operation is the sole priority of the human contingent.
Meanwhile, Terl is busy obfuscating the purpose of the gold mining operation and implementing the plan to ship the human mined gold back to the Psychlo home planet. Terl's plan involves modifying home world bound coffins to replace radiation resistant lead components with lead-plated-gold components. When he finally returned to Psychlo, the could then dig up said coffins and sell the parts to make his fortune.
During the semiannual teleportation of personnel, goods, and coffins (all dead Psychlos are shipped home for burial) to the Psychlos' eponymous home planet, Jonnie and the Scots, with the help of the Psychlo midget Ker (Ker is under seven feet tall, but still retains a Psychlo's impressive strength), co-opt Terl's plan by packing several of the coffins with "dirty nukes" and "planet busters". After the last teleportation, the humans use the Psychlos' own weapons against them and gain control of Earth.
Unsure of whether the bombs sent reached Psychlo and under threat of counterattack, Jonnie opposes a race of intergalactic bankers seeking to repossess the Earth for unpaid debts, as well as a longtime rival, Brown Limper Stafford, seeking to wrest control of Earth from Jonnie. To ensure the security and independence of humanity, he discovers the secret of Psychlo mathematics and teleportation: a difficult task compounded by the fact that Psychlo math is based on the number eleven (Psychlos have eleven fingers and toes), and the destruction of planet Psychlo. Jonnie's dirty nukes were meant only to destroy the capital city, but instead started a chain reaction which reached into the planet's core due to over-mining by the Psychlos which reached close to the planets core, exploding Planet Psychlo and creating a sun, effectively killing Terl as well. In time, other Psychlo facilities scattered about the multiple universes were destroyed by their own reliance on teleportation as they performed their scheduled teleportation shipments and instead brought back radioactive solar matter. This holocaust killed all the children, all the fertile females and the primary source of vital breath-gas, thus bringing about the death of the Psychlos everywhere except Earth.
It is discovered that all Psychlos have a DBS device implanted in their brains to make them less empathetic. Meant to make work pleasant for them, the DBS artifact promotes extreme sadism in the men. Removal of this device cures the handful of remaining Psychlos, to include Ker. With Jonnie's help, the teleportation machine is repaired, and they are able to bring back breath-gas from one of the Psychlo homeworld moons. Jonnie knows that, eventually, even the Earth-bound Psychlos will die off, and the species will become extinct.
A few years later, Jonnie and Chrissie are married and have a son. The Earth has been saved from further invasion by other alien forces, when it is revealed that Terl, the highest-ranking remaining Psychlo in all of the universes after the destruction of the homeworld, signed official paperwork giving the entire Psychlo empire to Jonnie. To the Psychlo security chief, it was a final bit of cruelty to make Jonnie believe that he actually owned the empire. Terl had no way of knowing he was about to die at the end of his teleportation, and that his people had been effectively wiped off the multi-universe map. Jonnie, as sole owner of the remaining Psychlo empire, uses this to pay off all debts to the intergalactic bankers, as well as buy impenetrable force fields and automated orbiting defense platforms to protect the Earth from future threats. With the Earth secure, Brown Limper Stafford dead (he was killed by Terl before he teleported) and the human population growing and learning about its true history, Jonnie gives ownership of the Earth back to his people. In the end, with Jenny in charge of the planetary college and the Scots rebuilding civilization, Jonnie and Chrissie take their son and leave for an isolated part of the world to train him in the old ways of survival, and to live out the rest of their lives in peace.
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.
According to Nielsen BookScan, Battlefield Earth sold 29,000 copies between 2001 and 2005.
Battlefield Earth received mixed reviews. The book had a negative reception from some literary critics: 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".
Other critics praised the novel, however. 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 U.S. presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pointed to the book as "a very fun science fiction book." Fantasy author Neil 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 said: "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
Shortly after its release, Battlefield Earth rose to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list and also those of the Los Angeles Times, TIME, United Press International, Associated Press, B. Dalton 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. Bookstore chains including Waldenbooks 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 [L. Ron Hubbard] was a popular writer, with DMSMH [Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health] released right on the heels of it and that put it right on the best-seller list!
And right now Battlefield Earth is selling out and selling out and selling out again. So we got a tremendous popularity thing going and you guys are getting a gift at 5 percent of CGI [Corrected Gross Income]. It's a total gift.
According to Corydon, "[W]e were ordered to sell 1,000 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, reentering The New York Times Bestseller 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.
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."
After Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published in 1950, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution stating that the book's claims were not supported by empirical evidence. Subsequently, 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 Psychlos who disagree with or oppose the Catrists are subjected to various forms of persecution; particularly, the Catrists use surgical mind control or DBS 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 "brain" in its language, signifying that the Catrists feel (or in any case claim) that the entire population requires treatment as mental patients.
One supporting character, a Psychlo mathematician named Soth, is described as having been shaped by the views of his mother. She was a member of a resistance group, referred to as a "church", which held religious meetings secretly. This "church", much like Church of Scientology, opposes psychiatry.
In one passage of the book, a human doctor recalls a "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".
The subsequent film adaptation, released in 2000, was a commercial failure and was criticized as one of the "worst films ever made". From the book's release, 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 first film was planned to be released in 1983, but due to rising costs, trouble in finding a studio that would fund the project, and Travolta's waning star power, the project was cancelled. It was finally produced by Franchise Pictures and released in 2000 as Battlefield Earth. Directed by Roger Christian, it starred Travolta (who by now felt he was too old to play the hero) as Terl, Barry Pepper as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, and Forest Whitaker as Ker.
The film opened to nearly universal negative reviews and was a large box office bomb. Due to bad word of mouth and Internet buzz, it quickly disappeared from theatre chains, having grossed $29,725,663 worldwide against a reported $73 million budget. Almost all aspects of the film were criticized: hammy acting (especially by Travolta and Pepper), the film's overuse of Dutch angles, mediocre visual effects, corny dialogue, and several plot inconsistencies. The film received seven Golden Raspberry Awards at the 21st such ceremony, including that for Worst Picture, and it later won two special awards: "Worst Drama of Our [the Razzies'] First 25 Years" and "Worst Picture of the Decade" (2000‒2009), at the 25th and 30th Golden Raspberry Awards respectively. Only Jack and Jill, a 2011 comedy co-written, produced by, and starring Adam Sandler, has won more Raspberries (jointly or solely winning all ten of the awards presented at the 32nd Razzies).
Franchise Pictures was later sued and went bankrupt after the company was discovered to have fraudulently overstated the film's budget. This kept it from following its plans to make a sequel, since the movie covered only the first half of the book. The first Battlefield Earth’s poor reception kept the sequel from hitting its intended 2002 release date, and the collapse of Franchise Pictures made the project even more untenable.